Running. It used to be an obscure idea to me, an action I would only consider if something big and hairy were chasing me. Wait, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t have run. I would have been the quintessential dumb blonde who backs herself into a corner and gets ripped to shreds while screaming at decibels only dogs can hear. At least that girl always has good hair. Big hairy thing–1, screaming girl who wouldn’t run–0.
So I started running. Not to say that my fear of horror movie monsters was the only catalyst; I also have an unhealthy and overdeveloped competitive streak. I kept hearing people talking about the Color Run–that 5K where you get blinded by tinted powder every kilometer. It’s a no-pressure race that’s meant to be fun. What better race to inaugurate me into the world of running. I also had a friend who had run it in 39 minutes, so my goal became to finish it in 38 minutes.
I got myself started on the treadmill with one of those training programs where you walk, then run for a short period of time, then walk again. I have never watched a clock more intensely than when I would run those couple of minutes, all the while thinking how impressive it was that I hadn’t taken a breath in a full two minutes. I could only focus on one thing at a time, so at first I focused on my legs and breathing was left by the wayside (I figured: I breath everyday, but my legs haven’t run since cooties were a health concern). Surely breathing was overrated anyway.
It wasn’t long until I got off the treadmill and started running outside. This is where I was introduced to the runner’s arch enemy–the dog on a 40 foot retractable leash. The 40 foot dog leash–for people who want to take their dog for a walk, but don’t want to be seen with it. The only thing worse than the 40 foot leash is the unleashed dog. I encountered more than my fair share of unleashed dogs when I began running outside. I would be running along at my happy pace and a dog would appear. Fortunately, I’m known for my catlike reflexes and I would jump over the dog. Unfortunately, jumping always seemed to trigger my swear reflex and I would string together obscene words and phrases that I’m still not entirely sure even made sense. I got into so many altercations while running that I contemplated running in a disguise. I thought a nice Amish beard would do the trick; no one would ever suspect the Amish to be swearing like a truck driver.
Soon I discovered where I could run dog-free. And slowly, I built up my endurance and my confidence and I was running at longer intervals. I decided to put my legs to the test and run some hills. I used to see people running uphill as I drove by and the anguished looks on their faces would scare me and make me wonder if I should stop and ask if they needed medical assistance. Now I know it’s not a look of anguish, it’s a look of power and strength because you pushed yourself way beyond what you thought you could do.
I got so into my training that I was ready for my first 5K long before the Color Run so I entered a Mother’s Day 5K. My first race. I had no idea what to expect. I was completely amazed by what I saw: thousands of people of all different abilities warming up and cheering for each other. I was pumped. The race started and I felt strong; I ran my fastest mile ever then paid for it in my second mile. I wanted to give up but then I saw a little girl holding a sign that said, “Go Mommy Go!” She wasn’t my little girl, but she was cheering for everyone who ran by. That was just the push I needed. I was re-energized and I had the finish line in sight. I caught a glimpse of a woman trying to pass me as we rounded the corner. That’s when my competitive nature took hold and I thought, “You better either fly by me or you’re going to have to earn it, because I’m not just handing it to you.” I kept running faster so she couldn’t pass. I finished before her and beat my goal time of 38 minutes with a time of 37:55. Upon reflection, I suppose the Usain Bolt pose I struck at the finish line was a bit gratuitous.
I used to hesitate to call myself a runner; I didn’t think I was good enough. But running has changed me. I’ve grown in my endurance and as a person; it’s not about how fast I go. For me, running is about that moment when neither of my feet are touching the ground; in that split second I’m flying, I’m free, and I am a runner.
Even now, when I’m running I’ll come to a hill looming in front of me that seems to say, “No, you can’t.” That’s when I adjust my hat, turn up my music and tell that hill, “Yes, I can.” And I’ve discovered that’s the key to life: find a new hill to conquer everyday.