The Uphill Battle: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run.

I've been writing this post in my head for about 2 years now. Usually these beautiful turns of phrases will come to me when I'm walking to my car with trembling limbs and my face flushed. Then I get home and I'm ravenous so I fix a huge bowl of pasta and pass out watching marathons of Law and Order or Poirot.
Today, well, lately, I've been feeling pretty awesome. So I figured I'd better knuckle down and write what I can.

About 4 years ago I wrote, "A bad run has the power to ruin an extremely good day."
I started running after I graduated from college. I was unemployed, I was still living with my mother and the gym was free because it was the college gym and I was a college brat. So I spent a lot of time there. Usually I would head for an elliptical machine, spend 20 minutes on there bored out of my skull and then do a circuit of machine weights.  But I always looked with some amount of awe at the people running on the treadmills.
They had long, lean legs; the kind I had coveted for many years. The kind you would see on Wonder Woman or a female athlete in Sports Illustrated. And they would have these expressions of absolute focus, almost a Zen spaciness to them.
Screw you, you svelte, athletic bitches.

So one day, when the gym was especially empty (I'm often very embarrassed by myself), I tried it out. I stretched, or at least imitated stretches I had seen runners perform, put my ear buds in, cranked up the speed to 5.5 and started running.
Quite often this procedure is the way I handle most experiments. I take a look at something and say to myself, "I could probably do that." Sewing? I could probably do that. Cutting my bangs? I could probably do that. Changing my car headlight? I could probably do that (I did actually consult the manual). This isn't to say that I actually seek assistance with any of the endeavors, or perhaps more importantly, any initial instruction.
Never did it occur to me to look for any tips on a website or talk to a track coach, or any of my friends who ran.
But boy did I really enjoy it.
Soon I was running 10 minute miles, keeping it up for 20 minutes. Once a friend challenged me to run a 7 minute mile and I did it. I felt like I was going to collapse a lung, but I did it. My running play list consisted, mostly of 4 songs: "TNT" by AC/DC; "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC; "Shoot to Thrill" by AC/DC and "B.O.B." by Outkast.
With these songs I was the bionic woman. My feet hit the mat completely in tempo with the down beat and adrenaline would surge through me until I nearly hallucinated I had sprouted wings and turned into Nike herself (not the shoe, look it up).
Source: via Rosie on Pinterest

Perhaps you think I'm exaggerating a bit. But that's probably because you've never experienced the runner's high.

Then I got a job, which was great. As awesome as running made me feel, it didn't give me any income or health insurance. Before employment I went during the early afternoon. Now I could only go after 5:00, sometimes after a very physically demanding day. But I was still able to keep up my pace, and that was great.
What wasn't great was the facility itself. There were about 5 treadmills in varying degrees of worn out. On any given day, one of them would be out of order; 2 others would be in use for at least half an hour by what looked like Olympic hopefuls, and there would be another 20 people hovering around in hopes of a treadmill becoming available within the next 15 minutes.

Sometimes I would sit by the window with a magazine so I could pounce when someone finished up their run. Sometimes I would spend a few minutes of the bike, getting a neck cramp trying to keep watch on the treadmills. But other times I would try to run the indoor track above the basketball court.
Okay, I know it's looking a gift horse in the mouth the complain about a free gym facility, but that was beyond a doubt the worst track I've ever been on. It was strangely shaped so that is took 12 laps to count a mile, and it was padded. Not track with a little more bounce, no it was padded as though you might do some somersaults. So for walking around it probably would have been great (and in fact that was one of my many pet peeves: people who walk on the treadmill). But running on it felt like slogging through ankle deep quick sand.
At first, though, I thought this was my own failing. After all I could see plenty of other athletes orbiting about with no apparent problem. Then someone validated me by saying that it was a terrible track and no one should ever run on it. But I kept on going. Or at least I tried; it was getting harder. I'd have to take more and more walking breaks, and for each break I would mentally beat the snot out of myself.

There were times when I really fucking hated running.

Obviously, if I didn't like it I should have quit. I should have taken up ballroom dancing or some other form of exercise. I should've done the elliptical. But nothing, nothing, felt like real exercise the way running did. Everything else seemed so wimpy. It felt like admitting defeat.

Sometimes I'd really be on target exercising, going three times a week, doing well. Then something would interrupt my schedule and I wouldn't set foot in the gym for about a month. That was always the worst; all the good I had accomplished would just disappear like sand through the hour glass. There was a 3 month drought brought on by the formidable combo of a really bad cold, and my heart being broken.

Then I started going to Planet Fitness with my friend. Truth be told, the only good thing about PF is that they sprout like mushrooms and they make exercise affordable. Otherwise the free pizza on the first Tuesday of the month, the free bagels on the third Monday, and the "Lunk" alarm infuriate me. They also always have a treadmill available.

Running was still flipping hard though. What made me all the more ashamed was that my boyfriend ran. And he ran properly. He had actually done some study on it, reading books like The Zen of Running (no joke) which proposes the notion that if you lean forward slightly and let your feet to lift and catch you, that is running. He also ran something like 4 miles as thought it wasn't any big deal. My lungs felt like they were being knifed at .75.  There was one disastrous time we tried to go running together and I nearly got heat stroke.

I was getting demoralised. At this point I had been running for about 5 years, on and off (the treadmill). Not only had I not improved, I was fairly certain I was getting worse.

That was when I did something a bit different. Well, in fact, a few things were changed: I tried running outdoors for the first time since my sister took me running while I was unknowingly suffering from Lyme Disease (one of the symptoms being arthritic joint pain).
My apartment was across the street from the college campus where I used to go to the gym, and it's beautiful; complete with winding paths, and a lake. So I worked out a little route the took me down to the lake, a few laps around and then back to my apartment.
It was hard at first. Passing some lithe gorgeous college students made me feel like a blob quivering down the quad. But I was determined; the Beastie Boys were rapping in my ears, "if you pulled my card you pulled the ace," and that helped me to feel like this was something I could do; this was something appropriate for me to do.
A few weeks into this run I felt like I was getting more confidence, more stamina. Sometimes I'd come across others running around the lake and they'd give me an encouraging smile (or so I told myself) as though we belonged to the same club.
However, I started this around mid-September. Soon enough it was October and rainy. Mud and rain weren't a deal-breaker, it even felt pretty fun. Frost and snow in November were deal-breakers. I am not hard core enough to go running when it's 32 F.
For one thing, I don't have the gear.
Back to the gym, and the treadmill, I went.

Then I looked online for running tips. Perhaps, if I had done that 4 years ago, they would've helped. Otherwise it seemed like really remedial instructions: Brisk walk for 12 minutes, then light jog for 10 minutes, walk 1 minute. Come on! This was the equivalent of me needing help with algebra and beginning with 1+1=2 again.
Another tip suggested setting a goal for myself, like running a 5K (roughly 3 miles). Nike's website had a training program for that, so I set my sights on that. The program had me running a variety of distances: 3.2K (easy) to 6.8K (um) to 12K (Oh my God!). I gave it my best effort, but honestly it took me about 45 minutes to run the 6.8K. You know, sometimes I just didn't have the time. Sometimes life just got in the way.
So I scrapped that goal.

Alright, you don't really need to read another 5 paragraphs on how I forced myself to keep running. Let's get to the turning point:
What was the corner that I rounded? I honestly have no idea. Maybe it was getting Chico.
"I like running."
Maybe moving in with Dan helped de-stress me and boost my confidence. Or maybe it was seeing my old high school friend talk about hitting the rail trails and running after a 5 year hiatus. Whatever. One day I put the leash on the dog, and my running shoes on and headed out the door. I did pretty okay, it was only 1.25 miles. It was more the incredible rush that I did it, which meant I could do it again.
My route was in the inner city, so I was fairly certain that I wasn't going to meet any hardcore runners who would give me looks. You know the one: "Amateur." Matter of fact, I kinda got a kick at the thought of running past the same group of kids playing in their front lawn every other day. Trying to keep the dog to my pace gave me enough of a distraction to almost forget that I was tired or my legs were hurting.
Dan, perhaps inspired by my efforts (I flatter myself) started running on the regular too. His mileage was way more ambitious than mine.
One day I gathered up my courage. He was lacing up his shoes to go for a run at the farm "can I come with you?" I asked.
He looked at me in surprise. After the last time we went running I flatly refused to run with him ever again. Those were probably my exact words.
"Sure," he replied. "Tell you what, if you don't mind driving the dog there, I'll meet you."
"I think I'm going to run there."
If you want to get a grasp of what this meant to me, it's about 3 miles from our apartment to the farm, and then another 3 miles on the trail.
So I was already starting out with a healthy dose of intimidation.

We met in the parking lot, he took Chico and set off. I eyed the trail and Dan's receding figure a little skeptically and then started to run. 
For about half the trail I was doing fine. It was mostly flat and graveled. I thought about all the tips I'd ever heard of and tried to employ them: Lean forward slightly so gravity works with you; do frequent checks of your shoulders and back to make sure they're not tensing up; check how your landing your stride etc; etc. These are all mind games one plays to forget that they're out of breath or, uh, a little bored.
It worked until I hit the wooded paths. That's when hills, some pretty steep, started coming my way, and the ground was getting a little uneven. After about, oh, 60 seconds of struggling with the terrain, I gave up.
Huffing and puffing, sweat pouring off me, I walked the rest of the way.
I was furious. Mostly with myself but I managed to bend and twist the situation in my head to be Dan's fault.
What was he thinking? I asked myself. This is a cross country trail! I've never ever run on anything like this! 
I swear, I fumed, if he comes running back this way to check how I'm doing, I will hit him.
That's exactly what he did. I didn't hit him, though. He came trotting down the path, t-shirt soaked in sweat and a huge smile on his face.
"Hey Rosie!" he called out.
Go away!" I growled in return.
To his credit, Dan is excellent at understanding when he actually is in the wrong and when I'm upset yet totally being unreasonable. He figured it out very quickly this time.
As I railed at him in the car on the way home he finally turned to me and said, "this is not my fault. You asked to come, I didn't make you do anything."
I shut up, fuming a little bit more because I knew he was absolutely right.

In days or months, or years past, I would have let something like this totally cut me off at the pass. This time I didn't.
Don't let this get you down, I told myself. You're only going to get better if you keep at it. And mostly I was right. My mind and I made a little pact that I wasn't going to do anymore treadmill running until it got really too cold to go out. So up until the last week of October, I was still heading out to the farm to run. Dan remarked on how much more efficient my stride had gotten, and I glowed.

Four years later here's what I have to say about running:
I'm not running for competition. Maybe someday I'll run a 5K, but that's not what qualifies me to run at all.
I'm not running to improve my times. I'd like to focus more on running for longer periods of time.
There is no such thing as a bad run: a 5 minute run is better than no run, and there is no shame if I give it a try and decide I've got the energy for the stationary bike instead. The point is to get sweaty.
This is because (and perhaps this is the most honest statement I can make about running): I'm running to stay healthy and not fat (shut up).

The irony? Now that I've removed the pressure, I'm toying with training for a 5K.


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