Sunday, November 9, 2014

A time to run

Ecclesiastes 3 : 1 - 8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven

On May 4, 2014 I ran my first half marathon.

To clarify, I trained for that distance. I did not wake up that Sunday morning and decide "I'm gonna run 13 miles today!" In fact, if you asked me 10 years, 1 year, or even 6 months prior tp that day if I thought I would ever run a half marathon I would, without hesitation, reply with a firm "Never!"

Like many teeanagers, I dreaded running the mile in P.E. class. I did it - week after week on Tuesday - because my desire for an A in class was greater than my fear of death caused by overexertion on a high school track. Every week for two years I begrudgingly circled the track, gasping for air with each lap, sometimes reciting Psalms 23 in my head because I was sure I might die. I was also an overly dramatic teenager.

Needless to say, after my required two years of Physical Education had been satisfied, I was elated. I silently promised to myself that I would never run again, unless a specific life or death scenario required such action. In fact, I spent the majority of my young adult life at a walking pace. Of course, walking pace in Berkeley is close to a jog, and maybe that is why there were a handful of instances each year in college when I found myself with an inexplicable desire to go for a run. It did not happen often, and it often was the result of a friend's suggestion (either direct or subliminal when she would regularly talk about running), regardless of the motivation, I found myself running in situations that were not life or death.

I was still not committed to the sport. After college I only found myself running 2-3 times a year when my self confidence was just low enough to make me aware I was out of shape and needed to change, but not so low that I was terrified to be seen in public. It always started one day with the declaration "I'm going to get healthy. I need to lose some weight and get in shape," and most often ended within 24 hours when I found a fast food diet and daily C.S.I. marathons on Spike Network to be easier to maintain than healthy living.

I did not track my running over these years - I use the term "running" loosely because it was more a combination of slow jogging for a couple minutes followed by long periods of walking - but I feel confident the distance rarely exceeded 1 mile. The times it did exceed 1 mile was when my family participated in a local charity 5K every September and that consisted of approximately 5% running, 5% slow jogging, and 90% walking.

My motivation to run shifted in early 2013. In January, 2013 I joined my work's Biggest Loser competition*. One month into the competition I found my desire to win some money and lose some weight was enough to not only get me to adjust my eating habits and get me to the gym on a regular basis after 6 months of NEVER using my gym membership (which I had now had for 6 months), but it also ignited in me a drive to run on a regular basis. Not only was I running on a regular basis, and at distances greater than 1 mile, I was actually enjoying the activity.

I had entered a new season in my life, a season of health and fitness.

I started to compete against myself, I set goals for myself each workout to push myself to new distances and better times. My first goal was to complete a 5K without stopping, I did not care about the time at first because I just wanted to see myself make it. I achieved that goal much quicker than I anticipated, and my follow up goal was to improve my time. Within a month I had shaved off over 5 minutes, and I am still chipping away at improving my time.

I could not believe it, I was  destroying the expectations I set for myself! Not only that, but I was shedding weight and feeling great about myself. The more I exercised and ran, the further I fled from the years of insecurity that crippled me in my adolsence and young adult life. I uncovered confidence I did not know I had as a result of accomplishing new goals I set for myself.

Soon enough, I found a 5K to be not challenging enough. On Thanksgiving Day 2013, I ran my first 10K, a local Turkey Trot I ran with my co-worker, and we made it in under our 1 hour goal! Another goal was beat and I felt great. I knew at this point 2014 was going to be the year of my first half marathon.

On that beautiful Sunday morning in May, I was two months into training for my first half marathon race, and I ran the furthest I had ever run to date, 13.16 miles.
You can see the exhaustion in my face after I realized what I had done, and the fact that I came in 10 minutes under what I set for myself as my goal is pretty amazing.

On June 7, 2014 I completed my second half marathon distance, but this time in an official race environment. That day I once again destroyed the goal I set for myself, and, thanks to the entire course being downhill, I set new personal records that I can only hope to improve on if I run the course again next year.

My sister and mom captured this picture of me shortly after crossing the finish line. In between posing and smiling, this snapshot captures the real moment. The moment of confusion and shock when I realized I was a runner.

I started to write this post the week before my June 7 race, as I was reflecting on how far I had run in just over a year and how much further I expected to run in the remaining months of 2014.

I cannot explain how it happened, but the activity I dreaded the most as a teenager had suddenly become one of my favorite activities and, aside from visiting my niece and nephew, it is the activity I most look forward to. I find myself dreaming of runs while I am boxed in my cubicle 5 days a week, I search for new races and countdown the days or weeks until the next event, and, when I can’t run, which was the case for most of October while I was resting an injury, I feel a part of me is missing.

The best part of this new season is the community I have found in running. In the last couple years I have particpated in mud runs, fun runs, charity runs, even a tap 'n run, and so many more runs in between. I have done races by myself, but my favorite events are the ones in which I can get friends or family to join me.

I have formed new friendships around running, and I have seen new life brought to older friendships in the shared excitement and drive of running. I have seen myself challenged and encouraged by friends (Donna finished another run on Run Keeper?! Erin ran ANOTHER half marathon?!) and I hope that my own excitement about the sport encourages others around me to give it a go.

For now, I thank God for this new season of my life and for the personal and spiritual growth I have uncovered since that early 2012 competition sparked a fire in me.

I am always looking for me new races and running partners - because running with a friend is infinitely more fun than running solo. Let me know if you have any recommendations or if you feel motivated to give running a try.

*In case you were wondering, I did not win the Biggest Loser competition that year at work. I came in at a distant 4th place. Although I held off 5th place with a 2.5% lead, 3rd place was a solid 5% above me. However, I consider the almost 2 year relationship I have with fitness as a result a better prize. Although, that money sure would have been nice when I had to buy new  - smaller - clothes after losing 20 pounds.