Whenever I tell someone who doesn’t run that I do their response is almost always the same, "I couldn’t run to the mailbox." It's not too dissimilar from what I used to think … before I ran.
Running is perceived by those who don't run as something extraordinary. For example, if I tell people that I work out at the gym everyday, no one thinks that’s something they can’t do, just something they don’t want to do. But if I tell someone I run, many who don’t engage in the activity will tell me they are incapable of doing so, as if it’s not in their DNA or something.
The irony is that every runner, marathoner and ultra marathoner has started exactly where many of you are today -- at the beginning. We all start running to our own mailbox and the next day to our neighbor’s mailbox and so on. Many of us don’t have an athletic history, nor did we wake up one day and just decide to run for 3 years as Forest Gump did. We’re just your average Joes who decided to take up running as adults. We started slowly and improved over time.
Growing up, my brother and sister excelled in anything sports-related. I was the opposite. I tried absolutely everything and failed miserably, though I never really knew I was bad. Case in point, I played basketball in sixth grade. My coach put the weaker players (of which I led the pack) in at half-time so we could say we played. I didn’t make the connection at the time; even as I watched the star players talk strategy while I threw the ball around the court.
Flash forward to my adult years and I remained athletically challenged. I worked out very occasionally in my 20s … nothing to speak of and I certainly never ran. I was fortunate to have height so I really didn’t have to. At 5'9, it takes a lot of extra weight for it to become noticeable. In time, however, that did change.
In May 2010, I was 35 pounds heavier than I am today. I didn't exercise and I had terrible eating habits. I almost always skipped breakfast (unless we dined out, in which case I would order a cheese omelet and bacon) and I rarely ate lunch. I enjoyed dinner, which was always a meat-based dish. In the evenings after I put our kids to bed, I would sit down with my "Avaya work" and a big plate of Tostitos with melted cheese, black olives and salsa. Throughout the day, I drank about six cans of Dr. Pepper.
To make matters worse, I was a closet smoker, which means I smoked on the sly, hiding it from just about everyone who knew me.
In short, I had turned 40 in Nov. 2009, and was doing a good job of digging myself an early grave.
My "aha moment" came in May 2010, though fortunately for me it wasn’t triggered by a major health issue.
My daughter Sienna has a flair for the dramatic. I was taking her to pre-school one day when she began crying. I asked her what was wrong and she replied, "I don’t want you to die." I told her I wasn’t going anywhere and this seemed to calm her. But that one moment bothered me … in fact it haunted me. I knew I was living an unhealthy life. I also knew that if I kept going down that path, more than likely I would die at an earlier age, depriving Sienna, her two brothers and my future grandchildren of time with me. Having watched my dad slowly kill himself and finally succeed at the young age of 62, I didn’t want to do that to my kids if I could prevent it.
I changed the game on May 24, 2010.
I quit smoking cold turkey, signed up for Jenny Craig and began an aggressive exercise program of strength training and cardio. I worked out hard -- six days per week. I experienced weight loss immediately.
I immersed myself in understanding nutrition. I read book after book after book. I had never been comfortable with the food that Jenny Craig sold. Ingredients were processed and high fructose corn syrup was a staple in many of the meals. I dropped Jenny and began transitioning on my own from the Western diet to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. I adhere to that to this day.
Running didn’t come into play until January 2011. For months, I had been engaged in interval training. I’d walk at a very fast pace on a treadmill and slowly increase the incline. This activity began to give me shin splints pretty regularly, which were painful. I had to choose a different form of cardio and at the time the elliptical didn’t appeal to me (though it does now). I figured I’d give running a whirl. In a short amount of time, I was running 3 miles at a clip, several days per week. Soon after, a gym friend approached me about running a half marathon that May. My naiveté about the whole sport allowed me to say "yes" without any hesitation whatsoever even though I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. In fact, when my husband told me it was 13.1 miles, I simply shrugged my shoulders and said that I thought I could do it.
He was shocked, but nevertheless said he’d train with me. Train we did. We completed our first half in May 2011 and our fifth this past September. Pushing the bar even further, I recently launched a blog to share our journey as we train to break four hours in our first full marathon in September 2013.
I am not any different from you. I don’t possess extraordinary athletic ability. Prior to 2011, I had never run around the block, much less in a race. I’m just a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor and colleague who has made her health a priority. I want to add years and quality to my life. Running helps me do that.
Former Chief Editor of Runner’s World magazine Joe Henderson put the act of running in perspective. "The challenge in running is not to aim at doing the things no one else has done, but to keep doing things anyone could do -- but most never will."
I'd like to see a world in which that quote exists without those last four words.
If I can run, you can too.