Going Nowhere, Slowly

Somebody asked me recently if I was a runner (because I was talking about running, or possibly shoes, or gaits) and I said, “Um. Not compared to actual runners.”

I am slow, and my “runs” max out somewhere below 5K. Also, I take a lot of breaks to walk and catch my breath. Occasionally somebody wants to join me for one of my tiny start-and-stop interval runs, and I always put those caveats around it. Also, “You don’t have to stay with me if it’s too slow.”

But I do run, sort of. And since I’ve been doing it, sort of, for nearly 20 years, I guess it might be time to admit that I do this thing.

I started with one of those “Learn to Run 10K” programs. It was ostensibly 13 weeks long. It took me over a year to get through it. I ran 10K, once, at the end. It took me 88 minutes, it was miserable, and I didn’t run again for… oh… at least a couple of years.

But somehow it has come back over and over again. Every couple of years, I have dug out that 13 week program and started over from scratch. I usually get about 6 weeks in and then hover at that level for a few months until something stops me (winter, extended travel, or becoming passionate about some new hobby that takes up most of my spare time.)

Every time, it’s a little bit easier.

I started when I was 28, and between babies. I had been working and commuting and going to school and not getting enough sleep and eating crap in my car between my too many obligations, and I had put back on all the “baby weight” without any actual baby.

I could see where this was going, and I didn’t like it. I like hiking. In particular, I like being able to look things that you can only see by walking to them, and I was rapidly losing that ability.

So I signed up for an adventure race. (Like ya do.) And then I said to my body, “Alright body… in five months somebody is going to drop us off in the wilderness of Quebec, and we’d better be able to walk back.” Learning to move my body in ways that would get me back alive became a high priority… I started walking and biking multiple hours a day, several days a week, in sleet and snow and dead of night. (I started in February and I was still working full time.)

My teammates (who were all relatively fit and had made more sensible lifestyle choices than me – which is to say, not grad school and working full time at the same time…) said, “Hey, maybe we should do this learn to run program.”

“Sure,” thought I. “How bad can it be, compared to walking, which I do lots already?”

That first 30 second interval was So Bad… 30 seconds is not a long time, unless you are running for the first time in 13 years after gaining 40 pounds when you sucked at it even when you were a fairly slim teenager, in which case it is an eternity.

I thought, “Oh, I’m in trouble.”

Over the next few weeks the intervals got up to 12 minutes, and then 15… but somewhere around 8 minutes, every time, I started thinking, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I could be reading.”

Somewhere around 8 minutes, every time, to this day, I start thinking, “This is dumb. I could be reading.”

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a temporary sensation, that I will eventually “hit my stride,” but it’s astonishingly compelling.

I’m toddling along, wondering, “Does everybody else feel this bad? Does it always hurt to breathe this hard? Those people who keep going for hours… do they feel like this for hours? How does anybody do this for hours?”

Every. Single. Time.

It’s as if I’ve never before fallen into the rhythm or gone through the transition where it starts to feel good to move my body.  I’m wrestling with my own mind, telling myself stories about quitting, navigating the stories, trying to remember what is true other than what I’m feeling in this moment.

And still… so slow.

There hasn’t been much else in my life that I have carried on with despite a lack of much improvement. Generally, I either get better at things, or I decide that I’ve learned enough about them and set them aside. This one I just keep plodding away at, like cleaning the house day after day.

I probably won’t ever enter a running race, not even one of the ones they call “Fun.” I don’t want to make people wait at the finish line until I get there, eventually. I don’t want people annoyed at me, because they could have gone on to the beer-drinking part of the day if I hadn’t showed up to slow things down. And I don’t want pity applause.

People drive past me while I’m running, and I wonder whether they are making fun of how slow I am… then I remind myself that, while I might be slow, at least I’m out here.

30 seconds no longer feels like an eternity, even though I’m nearly 20 years older than I was when I started this game. I’m in better shape, and I’m happier, and I can still get to places that I can only see by walking there, which was in fact the point of all of this.

Also, I made it back from the wilderness of Quebec. So, let’s call it a win.

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