For six weeks of my life this past summer, three days a week, I got up at sunrise and laced up a new pair of running shoes and strapped my iPhone around my upper arm and went out to pound the pavement on a Couch-to-5K program.
(Note: the program is eight weeks long. Feel free to do the math.)
Surprisingly, I didn’t hate the running. I have never, ever, ever been a runner; my running memories consist of being pushed and prodded around and around the park that was across the street from my junior high in the mid ’80s. Maybe the memory of the requisite green-and-white zip-up one-piece short gymsuit we wore has tainted my recollection of those days, but I’m pretty sure I loathed every second of those runs (during which I mostly walked, anyway). If they were trying to turn us into athletes—or even into people who didn’t abhor the very concept of exercise—the PE programs of the ’80s were an abject failure.
Now it’s a few (!) years later and apparently everyone is running! My Facebook feed reads like a communal running log; I’m impressed by my friends of all ages (some of them even older than me, if you can imagine that 😉 ) who have Couch-to-5K’ed their way from walkers to marathoners. They get medals. MEDALS. On ribbons, like at the Olympics! It’s inspiring, and the “I started off just like you” stories are abundant.
So for six weeks, I repressed my old green-gymsuit memories, and I made a playlist, and I ran.
The first day, the C25K app I’d downloaded told me to run 1 minute, then walk 1.5 minutes, and repeat. And I quickly became convinced I was going to die and that some hyperfit Marine drill sergeant would drive by on his way to work and have to stop to peel me off the sidewalk.
But I ran. And the second day I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to die. And by the fourth week I could run 5 minutes straight. And by the sixth week I was creeping up on 10 minutes.
Sounds like a success story, right? The truth is, it felt like a success story. I actually felt proud of myself; I loved my app, because I could scroll back and see my progression from 1 minute to 10. I am not sure I have ever in my life been proud of myself for a physical-fitness accomplishment.
Which made it really, really difficult to quit. There may have even been tears when I finally made the decision.
So why quit, then, you may rightly ask?
For practical reasons, like school starting and mornings staying darker, and sheer tiredness from getting up so stinking early all the time. For meteorological reasons, like living in a place with 95% humidity and early mornings that felt like running through soup.
All problems (excuses) that could easily be remedied by running later in the morning, or in the fitness center on a treadmill.
But then I got honest with myself and admitted that there were also personal reasons, like a dramatic increase in migraine headaches during those six weeks (which may or may not have been related to the running, but started making me anxious every running day in case I might have another; those of you who are migraine sufferers will be nodding your heads, knowing that adding further anxiety into the migraine mix is totally counterproductive to minimizing the headaches).
Then there was the reality that I never felt that “runner’s high,” the adrenaline rush or the energy spike. In fact, I came home proud of myself but utterly trashed. A relatively short 30-ish-minute workout was wearing me out for the entire day, and in six weeks’ time it got worse, not better. More than once I came home and melted down in tears, not from emotion but from exhaustion. I was feeling good about the running, but frustrated by the slow, slow recovery from each day’s workout.
And there’s the fact that I am not now (nor have I ever been–I refer you back to my comments about junior high PhysEd–) particularly competitive. Sure, I’d love to show my kids a medal I earned… or, heck, even the free tshirt… but I’m simply not motivated enough by the promise of a race. I started running because I knew I needed to do something for my health and my heart and my weight, and thirty minutes three days a week sounded like a pretty good deal. I never ran to complete a course.
It’s been two weeks now since I’ve been running, and honestly I’m still not 100% sure I made the right choice to stop. I’m glad I ran. I’m glad I improved. And I’d consider doing it again. I would love for my story to be one of those “If I can do it, you can do it!” exhortations.
But for now my story is this: From not completing the running program, I learned that I like to move. I even like to sweat, and to feel my lungs and heart working. So I am not quitting movement, or sweat, or breathing hard. Instead I am choosing to move, to sweat, to huff and puff and to enjoy it. To let it energize rather than deplete. To take anxiety and competition off the table. I’m choosing to listen to ABBA while I pedal down bike paths through old growth trees dripping with Spanish moss. If I feel like walk/run/walking with a knitting podcast to enjoy and no countdown clock to measure my progress, I’ll do it. Or I’ll pop in a dvd and step in place and do lunges and bicep curls in my living room. Or I’ll drag out my sticky mat and practice warrior and child’s poses.
That’s not quitting. (I am going to keep telling myself that until I believe it.) It’s not quitting. It’s choosing a way that is mine, that serves my body and maybe even feeds my spirit. There may not be a medal at the end of it… in fact, there can be no end of it. And there won’t be any celebratory Facebook statuses (you’ll have to wait for my knitted Finished Objects for that!). But there can be pride; and, even better, there will most certainly be wellness. And who knows—there may even be joy.