My only real foray into running had been briefly in the spring of 2007. I spent six months in Boston for a very intense internship, and my social life in the beginning was, shall we say, underwhelming.
Out of sheer lack of anything better to do on the weekends, I Googled “how to run a 5K” and stumbled upon the very popular Couch to 5K program . It seemed manageable. Run 60 seconds, walk 60 seconds, and build from there. I could do that! “That’s it,” I told myself resolutely. “I’m going to run a 5K.”
And so I tried. Every night, I would gasp for breath and run around my neighborhood in freezing weather, increasing the amount every time. “Oh forget it,” I would think, seeing that I would have to run 5 minutes consecutively. “There’s no way.” It was incredible to see my own progress, and about 8 weeks in, I was running about 2.2 miles at a time — I couldn’t believe it.
Though by that point, I had met some new people, and running took a back seat to exploring the city and going to dragon racing class . I never made it past 2.2 miles. I tried to pick up running again when I went back to school for senior year that fall, and never got the motivation. I would wander around for awhile with my iPod, and then head back inside. “Oh well,” I would think. “I mean, I don’t have endurance.”
Graduation came, and then the real world (both the actual thing and the show, since I write about TV for a living), and it became increasingly difficult to excel at an extremely time-consuming job, have a social life, and exercise on a regular basis. The third obviously took a back seat. Even though I knew I should, and it was, you know, good for me, I always had an excuse.
I had it in my mind that running was the only kind of exercise that really got people into shape, so whenever I got the urge to work out, I would try it — sort of. I would pick up Couch to 5K every few months, then get busy again. Or just get bored. Or, one time, take a very embarrassing spill on the sidewalk, hobble away, and not run again for weeks. I signed up for a 5K with my college roommates, and promptly walked the entire thing.
University of Maryland contingent at the race. From our attire, I think you can tell only one of us *cough Jess cough* runs races.
Post-college time flew by faster than I could imagine, with that cycle repeating over and over. But by the time Summer 2012 rolled around — five years after my initial 5K goal — I couldn’t avoid the fact that I was in terrible shape. It was easy to ignore until I couldn’t anymore. In making some other changes, I vowed to finally conquer my Everest: run a 5K.
So, the above conversation at my friend’s party in July came at the perfect time. And as if finally getting healthier wasn’t enough, I had extra motivation — I really hate canceling on people. And since my friends had signed up, I didn’t want to let anyone down.
The day of the race, on a gorgeous morning on October 6, I kept telling myself it wasn’t a big deal. No pressure. Only 3.1 miles. That’s not so long. How bad could it possibly be? I had trained religiously for the last few months, running a little further more every other day, in the DC summer heat. I asked Jess a million questions about training, and she very nicely answered. I did the same with Jason and repeatedly made him tell me if he thought I could really do this, and every time, he told me I could. I was ready as I was every going to be.
I am not an early riser, nor do I generally arrive at places early, and I showed up a solid 40 minutes before anyone else for the race that started at 8:30 a.m. Eventually, I saw a few other people from our group, and as everyone arrived, the panic set in.
All these people are faster than I am. Why am I even doing this again? What if I finish last? Will people laugh at me? What if I fall over and become a YouTube sensation? What if it takes me an hour to run it? What if I get lost on the course? Can I get out of this somehow?
We got to the starting line, and I was surrounded by people I knew — no chance for a quick escape. Before I knew it, it was time to start.
The course was a fairly simple trek through American University’s campus — it started through the quad and wrapped around the street, down to a track and then back through the same route again. The first round went okay. Most people in my group were really fast, but two of them, Anne and Jennifer, ran with me in the beginning. As much as I had been nervous about running with other people (What if they expect me to have conversations? I can barely breathe!) it was actually nice to have company.
The second time around the course, however, was unpleasant, as I remembered that running more than a mile is a lot of work that I’m not necessarily cut out for. Out of the goodness of her heart, Anne stuck with me the entire time, not even minding when I put in my headphones to listen to the country music that had gotten me through training for this thing. (It is here I must give a shout out to Florida Georgia Line, as well as Randy Montana — I can’t even listen to “ Cruise ” or “ Ain’t Much Left of Lovin’ You ” without feeling like I should break into a jog.)
I also discovered I have a lot of rage during races. “They’re not running! What do they know!” I snarled to Anne, in reference to the people who gave up their Saturday mornings to stand on the sidelines and cheer for 5K runners. She nodded kindly in agreement, while probably thinking I was a terrible person.
However, I did greatly appreciate another friend that showed up to not only cheer everyone on, but randomly appear at different spots on the course to yell at us to keep going. It was great, and also wonderfully distracting, because my mind would wander to how he got from one side of campus to another so fast..until I remembered he was a high school cross country star who ran four-minute miles or something.
Finally, finally, I saw the finish line in the distance, and saw the rest of the group cheering and clapping for me and Anne to keep going — they were awesome. I triumphantly crossed the finish line, and couldn’t believe the clock said something around just 38 minutes. I was so fast! For me, that is. I gave high fives to everyone I knew.
As for my fears about me finishing the race last? Um…as you can see from the picture above, there’s no one behind us. So I probably did. I didn’t even care.
Group shot after the race!
Anne, Jennifer and me
Overall, I’m not proud of the fact that it took me so long to achieve a very manageable goal. But the whole experience wound up being so much more than that.
Not running a 5K became a mental hurdle, like that I was going to be stuck in the same routine, in the same place always. So I think running has taught me that sometimes, you don’t have to wait for things to be exactly the way you want them to make changes in your life — you can just start, right now, regardless, and good things will follow
(As a sidenote, wow, does running get you in better shape — turns out it’s not just a rumor! The random compliments alone are worth it.)
Here’s just hoping it doesn’t take me 8 years.
A few weeks ago at an apple orchard. A more accurate description of what I love to do in my spare time.
Emily is running her second race tonight, the LivingSocial Glow in the Dark 5K Dance Party. Since the rules allow it, she’ll probably dance most of the way.