Last May, I ran my first ever marathon. How the hell did I ever get into running?
To be honest, the running I do is probably more accurately described as “jogging,” but I hate that word because it makes it sound like you’re putting in the tiniest effort possible to achieve minimum results – although let’s be honest, that’s how I run.
I just hate the word “jogging,” mostly for it’s wuss-sounding connotations. Jogging is a lot harder than it sounds, and being an utterly average human being, I still think that it’s worthwhile, especially when you’re getting into the exercise realm. I’ll continue to call it running, thankyouverymuch.
I had often heard the advice of “start small,” and “the only way to eat an elephant is a little bit at a time,” and after contemplating the disturbingly intriguing nature of eating elephants, I decided that I would start running. And lucky me, I had just graduated college, Austin and I were living in Germany for an internship of his, and I was working part-time over the phone. I had a lot of time to kill.
I thought I’d start “small” and run 3 miles. 3 felt like a good, solid number. Avenge the 9th grade failed 5k. Yes.
I made it 1 mile.
There was a hill in the way. A terrible, awful hill.
The hill was right behind our apartment complex and since we lived in the middle of an incline, I didn’t exactly have a choice. It was either go downhill and come back up (not ideal) or go up and then come down (slightly more ideal). Austin had previously told me there’s no shame in stopping, and so I would stop and walk a little and then start running again and 5 seconds later stop to gasp for air.
Good ol’ running.
How I hated it.
How badly I just wanted to feel the infamous “runner’s high,” but how I also did NOT want to run for 30 minutes solid until I felt that.
That night I ranted to Austin about how hard it was and how frustrated I was that I wasn’t better RIGHT THEN. So he and I went out for a run and he ran behind me to observe my form.
“You’re running too fast,” he said.
I angrily responded, “This is what running IS! IT’S FAST.”
(Because you should always yell at people you love when they’re trying to help)
“No, you can go slower. Here, let me show you how to run uphill.”
He started zig-zagging across the narrow road, turning his body so it was like he was running up invisible miniature switchbacks on the road. He ran slowly, and I tried to imitate him.
“I’m barely going faster than walking,” I whined.
“That’s okay! If you aren’t enjoying your run, you’re going too fast,” Austin said. “It’s okay to slow down. Running up hills like this will help increase your lung capacity too.”
I suddenly remembered swimming with Austin in a diving pool. I was swimming on top of the water when I saw Austin swim 6 feet under me and all the way to the other side and back without even surfacing to catch his breath. I wanted that. I wanted to be that mermaid.
“I want to go home now,” I said. “But I’ll try again tomorrow.”
So, I returned to the hill. I did the switchbacks. I ran so slowly, I looked like I was reenacting the end of Chariots of Fire.
There was a mixture of running and walking – but one day I finally got up that hill without ever stopping. I’d say the hill was about 1/3 of a mile, but that’s 1/3 of a mile of VERTICAL GAIN, HOLY HANNAH SHOOT ME NOW.
One day, I finally got up the hill and actually enjoyed my run.
I had stopped once, but I told myself that even though I could stop, I had a new feeling: I didn’t want to stop. So I kept going. I ran through the forest, past small houses and down a gravel road until I saw yellow canola fields and giant windmills rising above the trees.
Maybe that was the runner’s high making me crazy? Maybe I was Don Quixote – those windmills were pretty large. But I ended up outside this tiny adorable German village, I was surrounded by yellow flowers, and I finally ran the 3 miles I was aiming for, and I started building on that and stacked more miles on top of it.
As I continued to run every other day, I had discovered that running on flat or downhill or even gradual uphill surfaces enables you to catch your breath more easily. I got used to being out of breath – I somehow knew that I’d be able to breathe; I’d be okay.
What helped the most was just running slowly.
Slow enough that I stop praying for the sweet release of death; slow enough that I’m still running and I can pay attention to other things going on, like my stomach pain or the sudden urges to poop.
Hey, it’s a work in progress.
Running is hard in the beginning. I don’t think there’s any other way around it. But I’ve found so much immense satisfaction in pushing myself, in becoming stronger, and I even lost some of the baby fat from my face. It’s definitely worth it.