Running definitely wasn’t my usual cup of tea. My usual cup had vodka in it. So when I initially told my friends and family that I was going to train for a 5K, I had to wait a substantial amount of time before the laughter subsided enough for me to explain why.
Indeed, that was the big question. Why? Why would I, a girl who once constructed a four-foot poker out of chopsticks and straws to change the channels on my TV because I was too lazy to put new batteries in my remote, want to do something as strenuous as running?
Well, like a lot of women, one day I tried putting on my jeans, and despite all the usual tricks—laying down, stretching the fabric, getting them wet—I couldn’t get them to button up.
I realized, finally, what I’d let happen to myself. I had been slacking physically, but more importantly, I felt all the weight that I had gained mentally over the last year, too. A heartbreaking end to a relationship, the start of a new career and other life stressors had manifested in such an obviously physical way, I could no longer ignore them.
So, despite the fact that I’d never run a mile in my life, I decided to try an activity that people claimed not only helped them maintain their weight, but also gave them a sense of mental focus.
The first time that I ran I had a surprising realization: I actually do sweat when I work out. I had bragged for years that I “just don’t sweat when I work out.” Ladies and gentlemen: casually strolling on the treadmill while drinking a martini and watching “The Bachelor” apparently does not count as exercise.
And not only was I now sweating during my workouts, I was sore as heck afterwards, and in odd “probably shouldn’t be sore” places. Like my upper arms. What? These are the mysteries of exercise that I will never understand but have learned to accept.
Running was extremely tough at first. I was easily winded, felt cramps in every muscle in my body, and had many days where I just couldn’t get myself mentally revved up enough to get on the treadmill. At one point I even strained my knee and wasn’t sure I would be competing after all. I also faced a significant amount of self doubt and fear.
But the challenges were nothing compared to the highlights of my training. I learned to love the mental endurance that grows with running and the feeling of regulating my own breath and how that helped me learn control over my body.
I was at the gym when I ran my first mile, and I couldn’t help but let out a little yelp of celebration and pumped my arms in the air, completely forgetting that I was in public.
But there was nothing that could have prepared me, a girl who used to eat ice cream while watching “The Biggest Loser,” for how much my first race would mean to me.
There were many things that I loved about the race. I loved having my family there supporting me. I loved running at my steady pace past the people who sprinted cockily past me in the beginning (ever heard of the tortoise and the hare, people?). I loved passing the 2-mile mark and realizing that I was going to be able to run the whole race. I loved the adrenaline and enthusiasm of all the other runners, which helped me go faster than I ever thought I would. But most of all, I loved running under that finish line and knowing that I not only accomplished my goal, I smashed it!
Danielle Allen is a freelance writer living in Rochester. She is training for a half marathon.