When I signed up to run my first ever 5K race I was not at all prepared to run one. For the past several years up until the beginning of 2014, I had been leading an entirely sedentary lifestyle. The longest walking I did on a regular basis was during our weekly trip to the grocery store. As a vegan I told myself that I still had better health than the people who weren't, and though I was still a little overweight, I didn't feel like I needed to do anything else to be healthy.
Well, people tell themselves all kinds of things to justify their bad choices. The signs were there, and I tried to ignore them. Such as the pain and fatigue I felt after we participated in the Walk for Farm Animals, and an inability to climb stairs without losing my breath. I don’t believe in New Years resolutions, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but in January I decided it was time for a change.
I started out with walking for 30 minutes every day on my lunch break. It was cool that I would come back to work not tired, but instead invigorated. Not only did it make me feel good, but the good feeling seemed to last for the next several hours, not just until the end of the day. My co-workers seemed to think I was weird for doing it, but I didn't let that get in the way.
In February while Liz and I were enjoying the Olympics on TV, I felt inspired to step it up. I guess I saw the irony of watching people do awesome stuff while I sat on my tuchus and drank beer. Liz agreed to exercise with me, and we bought a digital copy of a workout book. The book had us doing 20 minutes of cardio daily, and lifting weights every other day.
At first I saw the cardio as some miserable thing to suffer though before I could get to the good stuff, the weights. It had us on a treadmill fast walking 2 minutes at a steep incline, running for 2 minutes, and walking for 2 minutes before starting it all over again. In the beginning It was so hard! I couldn't run for 2 minutes at all, and my run speed wasn't much faster than my walking one. It was embarrassing.
As I continued with the program, I was amazed at how quickly was able to see improvement. Within a few short weeks I was able to run the whole 2 minutes, and I felt like I had to speed up the pace just to keep myself from running into the front of the treadmill. I felt great after my time on the treadmill, not just for the rest of the day, but into the next.
This was particularly amazing to me because I've always hated running. I was never good at it, was always slow, and always felt like I couldn't breathe. Fourteen years ago I was in the Army and learned to HATE run days. I was the slowest person in my unit, and always got so much crap about it, just the thought of running made my stomach feel like it was full of lead bricks.
But here I was, running and enjoying it! Visibly and quickly getting better at it! This is when I signed up for the 5K. My goal was just to finish, but mainly I wanted to be the kind of person that runs 5K’s! I chose a race that was still two months out, and threw myself into training for it.
Like many first timers, I found the Couch to 5K (or C25K) program, which is a free online training program, that does just what the name implies - turns a couch potato into a runner! It was very easy at first, alternating walking and running. It gradually decreases the time you spend walking until by the end you’re running about 35 minutes non-stop. The transition is amazing, especially in how fast it seems to take place. It’s easy to remember when running 8 minutes straight was excruciating, and just a few weeks later I checked the time while running and thought to myself “Sweet! Only 8 more minutes to go!”
My training wasn't without its hiccups though. What felt too easy in the beginning became very hard, and sometimes I wondered if it was too hard for me. After buying an expensive pair of running shoes I realized I had made a mistake, and had to go buy a different kind of shoe. I also developed a foot injury I had to struggle with. Thankfully it didn't keep me from finishing the program in time for the race.
When race day finally rolled around, I was excited but not nervous because I knew I would finish, and I also gave myself permission to be slow. Yes, it’s called a race, but as any runner will tell you, the only person you’re racing is yourself. I also figured if I had a not-so-great finishing time, It would be that much easier to improve on it!
The race itself was harder than I thought it would be. It was warm out and very humid. Much more humid than anything I had trained in. While training I could run a mile at an easy pace before I started breathing particularly hard, but on race day I was gasping for air after probably the first quarter mile. I also had to navigate around other runners for the first time ever, and the course had more hills than the area where I live. I ended up walking more than I wanted to in the second half of the race, but i finished and I survived. I gave it my all, and that’s what counts.
In the end I placed 117 out of 182 participants. My official time was 37:42, almost two minutes slower than I thought I would do, but it was my very first race and now I have something to aim for. I’m currently taking a break from running to make sure my foot heals completely, but I’m eager to get back to it. Running made me feel better, look better, and gave me a sense of accomplishment long before I ever ran in a race. It’s also inspired me to eat better, sleep more, and generally take better care of myself. I feel like becoming a runner is one of the most positive changes I've ever made.
A lot of fit, skinny, energetic people bounce around and say things like “Anyone can become a great runner!”, and like most people I used to roll my eyes at that kind of thing, but I've come to realize that they’re right. You just have to start small. Be slow. Walk as much as you need to. Because if you overdo it, you’ll quit. If you just do what you can and have fun, you’ll keep getting better.