I ran three miles today.
You might not find this terribly impressive, if you yourself are a runner or any other form of marginally fit person, but for me this is an incredible, wonderful, miraculous day. Just over a week ago, I managed to push my way through a mile and a half moving nearly as slowly as I would have at a walk, and finished feeling like I was going to puke and possibly die. It was a new personal best and I could hardly breathe.
My dog just sat down and stared at me. He wasn’t even panting, that bastard.
I’ve been running for a few years now — ever since I bought my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers and realized that running could be awesome again like it was when I was a kid — but to be honest, I’ve been a little incompetent about it. I’d run for awhile and then walk when my calves began to ache or my side began to stitch or I was wheezing too much, and although for awhile I was running on a very regular basis, I wasn’t actually improving much. Even after a good solid year of this, I had yet to do a non-stop mile. I wasn’t very motivated.
This year, a few things came together. First, I was whinging about my lack of improvement to a fellow runner via the Interwebs, and received some excellent advice. It went a bit like this: “You know what I do when I’m running and I get a stitch in my side? I keep running. Also, when I’m feeling kind of winded? I keep running.” I was also advised to slow down — that if I was short of breath before I’d even hit a mile, I was going too fast for my level of fitness. Once I actually took this advice, things began to improve in a remarkably dramatic fashion. After months upon months upon months of a ridiculously short plateau, suddenly I was pushing myself farther and faster not just every week but every single run. When I did that first mile and a half, if I’d been racing a tiny old person in a walker, they probably would’ve beaten me to the finish line, but by god I did the full mile and a half without stopping.
Because I’d also realized at long last that the most important aspect of running isn’t physical, it’s mental. It’s deciding to just keep running. So that’s what I did. My calves burned and I decided to keep running. My lungs burned and I slowed down but I kept running. It started raining on me before I’d finished my lap and my dog was acting like he thought he was in Fight Club every time another dog came anywhere near us and my feet were blistering and it was getting late and my mp3 player batteries had died and I just kept running.
When I’m tempted to stop, I think often of Eddie Izzard, best known as a British comedian and actor but also kind of a hero of mine. Eddie wasn’t by any means in shape or a dedicated runner when he decided to do something completely mad: he ran 1,166 miles around the UK in aid of the charity Sports Relief. According to people who are better at math than I am, that amounted to a marathon a day, six days a week, for eight weeks. And watching the documentary series about this exploit, it seems that the man was powered by nothing but sheer mental grit. He seemed unable to stop running. And I’m intensely grateful to him for doing it, more than I can really say, because he’s a beautiful example of what’s possible if you’re just insane enough. I mean, if Eddie can run 43 marathons, then surely I can make 3 miles? And when I’m flagging I can think to myself, “If Eddie could run in this, then surely I can manage with a little weather.”
It can be really tough to keep yourself motivated when you’re getting started as a runner and all you’ve got to push yourself is yourself. I didn’t exactly have a lot of support, either. Quite a few of my friends have enjoyed pointing out to me repeatedly that my toe shoes are the most hideous item of clothing they’ve ever seen in their lives. (That totally helps with my self-image issues, thanks.) When I first adopted my dog and told people that I figured having him around would get me exercising more, I got knowing chuckles and a lot of, “Oh, I thought that too when I got my dog, it’s not going to happen.” When I excitedly told a few runner friends that I’d signed up for my first 5K race, I was thoroughly deflated when I was told that 5K races were so short they weren’t even worth it. I still haven’t run a 5K, but at least now I know I’m capable of it. (And there’s a 5K benefit coming up for University of Utah rugby, so I think I might finally have to do it!) And more importantly, I’ve found that motivation in myself to push on and just keep running. Because even if you look stupid or your friends don’t get it or you feel like everyone else is so much more experienced that you’ll never catch up, the important thing is that you’re still doing it.
So today I ran three miles. I can almost say I ran it easily; I put on more speed than I’ve ever managed before (though I’m still outstripped by pretty much every other jogger at the park), I never struggled to catch my breath, and instead of aches and pains I had delicious heat radiating from every inch of my body. My muscles weren’t sore; they were singing. I felt like I could go on forever. At the three mile mark I ran a little further, just because I could, and felt like I could’ve done another few miles at least, but I had work to do at home and an evening to be getting on with, so instead I slowed myself to a walk, enjoyed the tide of victory and endorphins swimming in my bloodstream, observed with pride that my dog was finally starting to get worn out, and headed back for the truck.
I can always add on a few more miles tomorrow.