Yesterday I was shuffling along the Stanley Park seawall here in Vancouver. The cold wind whipped rain into my face, my hip ached, my clothes were soaked through and my race bib rattled with every lurching step. How did I get here? How was I three-quarters of the way through running my first ever half marathon? I’m not even a a runner!
I’ve always told people that I hate running, that I’m not a runner, that I don’t see the appeal. Growing up I compared myself to my Dad who ran Boston qualifying marathon times and my sister who ran cross-country races in high school, going so hard and full out to win that she puked at nearly every finish line. Instead of running, I played soccer and rugby, hiding behind the team effort and learning strategy and play-making to make up for my lack of speed and endurance. In university I gravitated towards the slower pace of hiking and backpacking. “I’m not good at running”, I told myself, “It’s better if I avoid it. That’s Dad’s thing. That’s my sister’s thing. I’m not a runner.”
A few years ago I was out of shape and overweight from spending too much time working a desk job and not enough time outdoors. I signed up for a local 10k race, trained for a few months, injured myself through over training, then ran the race and had a horrible time. “I was right!” I told myself, “I am bad at running, I do hate running”. But somehow the next year I signed up again, and did slightly better than before. And then I did it again the following year.
I ran during my lunch hour at work and in the locker room my coworkers would comment on how often I ran, how I must love it. “Oh no,” I would reply, “I hate it. I just do it so when summer comes I’ll be in shape for hiking”. But four days a week, no matter what the weather, I’d lace up my shoes, plug in my headphones and head out the door.
I loved being outside, feeling the rain on my face, smelling the ocean when I ran on the seawall. I loved the alone time, to be inside my head and to take a break from work. And I loved pushing myself sometimes, knowing I could run farther than before, and faster than before. Occasionally I’d get that elusive runner’s high and I’d finish my run with a smile on the my face that lasted into the afternoon, long after I’d come out of the shower. But I still told myself, I still told other people: “I’m not a runner. I actually hate running.”
Yesterday morning I finished my first-ever half marathon. I suffered through some of it. Most of it was not fun. I wanted to puke at the finish line. My time was not very good. But I did it. And I’m so proud of it. A few years ago I could never have dreamed I would finish a half marathon. But I did it, I ran it, I survived it. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other after all.
Today I’m still stiff from yesterday’s race. My running gear is still drying out. And I’m looking through training plans, working towards getting a little faster at the 10k I’ve signed up for in the spring. Because it turns out while I’m certainly not the fastest runner, or the fittest, I do kind of like this running thing. I’m not good at it, but that doesn’t matter – I can still do it and I can still get a little bit better at it every year. I think it’s time to come out of the closet and admit it. So I’ll say it: “I’m a runner. I kind of like running sometimes.”
It took me a long time to get here, to admit that. I’m guilty of avoiding things I think I’m not good at, or refusing to try things I think I won’t be good at. I bet you are too. My journey from non-runner to reluctant-runner to out-of-the-closet-runner hasn’t been an easy one. But a few things have really helped along the way. So here are my tips for learning to love running:
Get a Training Plan and Stick to It
The first few years I trained for a 10k I didn’t really have a plan besides running longer distances more often, and sometimes running intervals. I injured myself repeatedly. Last year I started using training plans from the Runkeeper App. They helped me run faster, which was something I really struggled with and helped me up the miles without over training. They also have audio cues for pacing which is also really key for me.
I committed to running four days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday on my lunch hour at work and then a long run on the weekend. I didn’t miss too many runs and I ran no matter what the weather. The weather yesterday was horrible but I knew how to dress for it, and could say I had run in worse thanks to my training plan.
Listen to Something Good
Last year I started listening to podcasts while I ran. It changed my running! While I listened to music my mind would wander and I would think about how I hated running or how it was hard. When listening to podcasts I am focused on the story or on learning something. I only listen to podcasts when I run – it’s like saving a favourite treat to have as a reward. My favourites are Serial, This American Life, The Vinyl Cafe and Under the Influence.
Be Proud of Yourself – Don’t Worry About Anyone Else
I spent a lot of time worrying about how I stacked up to other runners and how slow or how fat I was compared to them. I am learning to let it go, not to care. For me taking a few minutes off a 10k time that is still over an hour is a huge accomplishment. So is going out into the driving rain to run 4 days a week. And so is shuffling all the way to the end of a half marathon – even if I got beaten by some grannies. I compare my results to me. And so I’m disappointed with my half marathon time because I think I could have run faster, not because most of the field finished well ahead of me. And despite the disappointment with my time, I’m proud of myself. My slow finish time is a big accomplishment for me, even if it would be embarrassing for another runner.
So are you a runner? It’s ok to admit it!