I knew I was in trouble when I went to lunch with several friends this summer. One woman said she needed a new pair of running shoes, so she went around the table asking everyone for recommendations. Everyone except me. I’m sure my friend didn’t mean anything by it, but was it really so obvious by looking at me that I couldn’t possibly be a runner? I’m not so sure I wanted to hear the answer to that question.
I’d like to say that the demands of work and moving and child-rearing had left me out of shape, but that would imply that I was ever in shape. Of course it didn’t help that I’d felt compelled to finish the last uneaten chicken nugget out of every happy meal for the last ten years. If I was finally going to get fit and model healthy behavior for my two children, I had to do something.
I read in a magazine about “Couch to 5K” plan. It’s a program that gets you from being a couch potato to running a 5K in nine weeks. I use the iPhone app, but you can also download the plan from their website. It’s terrific, and I highly recommend it, even if the training hasn’t always been easy.
Day One. I go for a run in my brand-new pair of running shoes. I don’t run so much as do a sort of trot/shuffle. (Truffle? Yes, please!) The program starts off with one minute runs alternating with one minute brisk walks. Yes, I pushed myself by running a minute at a time. I can hear you runners and most of you non-runners laughing from here. But when you’ve been as sedentary (read: inert) as I’ve been for the past decade, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Day Two. I go for a run and come back with two black eyes. Clearly I need a good sports bra.
Day Five. I feel particularly out of shape today. I blame it on the fact that I am on the wrong side of 40, can’t get into a routine because we have moved so much, and I’ve given birth to two children. Then I meet a 50-year-old Navy wife and mother of four who moves every year and yet stills manages to work part-time as a nurse and do marathons in her spare (?) time. I come home and eat half a roll of cookie dough in despair.
Day Six. I opt to forego my morning session. It’s dark and chilly, and I’ve decided that human beings weren't meant to exert themselves this early in the morning. Around 6:30 AM, I stumble half-asleep out to the curb in my pajamas, dragging the recycling behind me, when a friend zooms by on her morning run. She’s moving so fast, I don’t recognize her in my bleary-eyed state until she gives me a friendly but shame-inducing wave. I go inside to find my sneakers.
Day Ten. I run five whole minutes without feeling like my heart is going to explode from my chest. It is a small victory for the woman who used to fall into something like the 3rd percentile on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I still have nightmares about the shuttle run.
Day Fifteen. I’m discovering what amazing running trails we have here in Fairfax County. Why run on a treadmill when you can take in the beautiful woods and lakes? I go today for a
truffle jog around Lake Mercer in Springfield. It’s beautiful and leafy, and the traffic noises of the Fairfax County Parkway are just a faint whoosh in the distance. I nearly run into a doe that leaps out onto the path. She eyes me indifferently for a moment before ambling off into the woods.
Day Seventeen. I kind of like this. I feel good. I don’t like walking. I never saw the point of going for a walk unless there was something to eat or a half-price sale at the other end. Running is different. I feel like I’m getting somewhere. I feel like I’m accomplishing something.
Day Twenty. There’s a fun run coming up at school. I think that “fun run” is a contradiction in terms, but I find myself a little disappointed that we have other plans for that morning. Next year.
Day Twenty-Three. We signed up for a membership at the local Fairfax County rec center, and I bump into a friend as I am leaving. She’s a hardcore marathoner, so she’s excited to hear about my progress. She enthusiastically suggests I start training for next year’s Marine Corps Marathon. I just smile and nod. There is no way I am ever going to run a marathon. I don’t even want to do something that feels good for four straight hours.Day Twenty-Five. I drive by Gravelly Point while dropping my husband off at the airport. There are kids flying kites and families picnicking. I think to myself, “That looks like a fun place to run.” The realization that I have used “fun” and “run” in the same sentence almost causes me to have an accident.
Day Twenty-Eight. My husband and I get out an area map and plot out our next running courses. He’s thinking a brisk run through Ft. Hunt when the leaves change. I’m thinking a run along the Potomac with majestic national monuments as a backdrop.
Day Thirty. I’ve been heading out on a neighborhood run every morning after getting the kids off every morning. This morning on the way to the bus stop, my daughter slips her hand into mine and says, “Mommy, I’m really glad you’re getting into good shape. I want you to be around for a long time.”
I may never run a marathon. I will never be mistaken for a triathlete. No one’s ever going to ask my advice on sneakers. But days like this, with one squeeze of her hand, I remember why I am doing this.
What 5Ks are you looking forward to this fall? Do you have a favorite route? I’d love to hear about it