In my dreams, I run without my feet touching the ground.
I’m not quoting a bad motivational poster, that is really how I get around in my dreams -- legs churning, hoping no one will notice that I’m sort of levitating.
In reality, it takes a lot of force to shift my inertia from a body at rest to a body in motion. At 250 pounds, I require even more force to get moving than a typical runner. The “typical” runner I imagine is rock-hard and glistening, a lunch-hour runner who makes mortals wonder what breed of insanity motivates her.
I, however, probably make mortals wonder how this body manages to move at a jogging pace at all.
While the need for physical energy to become a runner may be obvious, I require a great deal of mental energy, too. Each day is a battle with my own mind’s powerful attempts to keep me stationary and hidden inside the house. The excuses begin to flow: Is it too hot today? Or maybe it’s going to rain? What if I get a headache? Maybe I will collapse in the street.
In the past, these excuses limited my route to the streets in the direct vicinity of my front yard. I comforted myself by thinking if I had a physical or medical (or emotional) emergency, I would at least be close to home.
Before now, these three fears often kept me from firing my jets:
- Fear of judgment: What must people think when they see someone like me bouncing down the sidewalk? Now I just answer, “What people? And who cares?” If anyone is paying attention to me and has mean energy to burn, it can hardly negate the boost I feel from jogging on a nice day with my happy baby rolling along in her stroller ahead of me. (Also, so far, no one has actually said anything mean to me.)
- Fear of failure: Running is something I’ve always wanted to be good at, but what if I never am? To fight this fear, I have to define what it means to be good at running. I used to want to be fast. Now I just want to be fast enough. I want to be fast enough to keep up with my (fairly slow) husband. I want to be fast enough to stay in the race, even if I’m dead last.
- Fear of pain: What if I end up miles away from home and some part of me really hurts, but I have to retrace those miles to get back? When my confidence to complete a certain distance is low, I have even circled the same few blocks around my house over and over so I could get back quickly in the event of an injury. I don’t know what injury I expected to occur as I shuffled at a near walking pace. The fact is running has never hurt me except for a few headaches due to heat and poor hydration.
As an aspiring runner, I face many more mental challenges than physical ones. Now that I don’t care about speed, and I don’t worry so much about potential injury, I have only one physical challenge to conquer. No, it’s not my weight! My personal challenge is to run farther, longer, and more often, building by tiny increments at a time.
I just started running again in September, as a 39th birthday gift to myself. When I say I started running “again,” you might imagine I was once one of those taut athletic types, and that I’ve only recently found myself in this overweight condition. Not so! I’ve been about this size for at least a decade, and I’ve “started” running at least a handful of times. At my best, I completed a relay half marathon with my husband. At my worst, I dropped out at mile 6 of a half marathon because I was too slow, and they were closing the course behind me. Or you might say the worst moments in my running life were the times I wanted to do it but didn’t have the courage.
I started this time with a fresh short-term goal — to run an entire 5k in March 2015 without walking.
Training Day 1: I insist that my husband run with me to boost my confidence when I try to bail, to help me feel less conspicuous as a very non-runner-looking person, and to distract me as I huff through a minute of running, followed by four minutes of walking.
Day 3: I repeat the one minute running/four minutes walking intervals without my husband-coach. I do, however, rely on my daughter in the jogging stroller to deflect attention from me. I assume people must think I gained a ton of weight while I was pregnant, and now I’m trying to work it off. The truth is I gained only 12 pounds when I was pregnant, and I lost every ounce during birth.
Day 10: OK, I can run two minutes, but can I run another two minutes after catching my breath for four minutes? And then do it again? Turns out I can. I want to say, “Suck it!” to my doubters, a.k.a. myself.
Day 15: Run three minutes, walk three minutes, then run three minutes again? And repeat the whole sequence for a total of 30 minutes? Thank God for riveting podcasts, counting breaths, just getting to the next driveway, the next corner, the next three minutes of walking.
Day 70: After weeks of viruses, travel, cold weather, flat stroller tires, I’m still at the three-minute interval stage. It’s a pace I’ve become submissive to, as the old confidence demon tells me I probably couldn’t last four or more minutes. Each time I stretch the running interval and shorten the walking interval, I drag along that demon. Once I achieve a new goal, I question whether I can repeat it the next day. The only way I can fight my demon is to keep going out and proving him wrong.
What has changed with this most recent attempt at becoming a runner? Not my body -- it looks about the same as always, though it does feel stronger and more capable. The difference is that this time I can see my excuses and fears very clearly. Because I recognize them when they try to block my way out the door, it’s easier to slip by them than it was in the past. I used to think they were solid, immovable walls, but now they are paper-thin.
In November the San Antonio Rock ’N’ Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon course passed within a few blocks of my house. We walked over with the baby to watch the runners and walkers at Mile 6, the same point where this race defeated me five years ago. All I could think about this time was signing up again next year.