“Well, she’ll never be a sprinter.” My father’s insight when I was 3 years old was spot on. I never did become a sprinter. I think I surprised him, though, when I decided to become a runner at age 32.
Oh, I had dabbled a little bit. The summer after my sophomore year of college, my younger sister and I took up running in the evenings. I don’t think we ever ran more than two miles at a time, and it was always an easy walk-run pace.
Then it slipped from my routine, and I didn’t think to take up any sort of sport for a long time. My lazy ways caught up to me, and exercise was something I just didn’t care about.
COUCH TO 5K MIND GAMES
Something clicked in 2011. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment, but I was frustrated with how clothes didn’t fit well and how certain chairs were not comfortable. I started looking for something I could do to feel better wearing a button-down shirt. At the same time, my former-running-buddy sister had mentioned something about a program called Couch to 5K. In theory, you could get off the couch with no exercise experience and run a 5K (or 3 miles) in nine weeks. I figured I could try it out, and if anything, I could quit.
I’m not going to say the program was easy, because it wasn’t. It was difficult and hard and more than once I wanted to stop. My knees wigged out and my hip cramped up and my breathing took a long time to normalize. What they said would take nine weeks actually took me about 12.
The first time I ran 3 miles without stopping for a walk or break was beyond exhilarating. I’m not talking about the so-called runner’s high; this was a personal pride high. Running is a mind game you only play with yourself, and the only competition and person to let down is you.
After I reached my goal, it was another long few months until I actually enjoyed a run. Even after five years of doing this, I’ll admit that most of the time I’m on a treadmill or out running through the streets, I am not enjoying myself 100 percent.
THE REAL REASONS WHY I RUN
The times I am enjoying myself, however, I realize why people do this. It isn’t the sore muscles or the labored breathing, the money spent on shoes and the blisters. It’s the thought of lacing up shoes, opening your front door and taking a break from the world for half an hour. It’s listening to the queued podcast or inspiring music or just the sounds of the world around you.
It’s running along a residential street and wondering what people are doing inside their houses. It’s waving to the neighbors and getting a small wave and nod of acknowledgement from every other runner or walker on the road.
It’s the smell of springtime growth and fresh air after a long winter of making do on a treadmill (or worse—running in sub-zero temps!). It’s plugging away in summertime humidity and catching a whiff of just-cut grass. It’s kicking through piles of orangey-red maple leaves that have migrated to the edges of the road and inhaling the scent of autumn.
It’s the final half mile when you can see your destination in the distance and push yourself a little bit more to get home a little quicker. You power through because maybe this will be a good final running time or you’re tired and want to collapse on the grass or you know there’s a giant bowl of ice cream waiting for you. But really, the only real reason you power through it is because you can.
Kate Wallace lives in St. Charles with her husband and three cats and is training for the Rockin’ Robin Run half marathon in May.