Growing up, I was never really into sports or things of that nature. I was more the academic type. To put it bluntly, I did not have an athletic bone in my body. In elementary school, when all the other kids were getting excited about the annual Field Day (when all the kids would compete in various events, such as the 50 yard dash, the scooter race, and the rope climb), I was secretly hoping I would come down with some mystery illness so I wouldn't have to compete. In middle school, when everyone else was breezing through the one-mile fitness test in 7 or 8 minutes, I was wheezing and plodding around the track (oh the evil, evil track!) for an eternal 16 minutes, wishing for death... or a fire drill. When I moved to a new city in the middle of my high school years, the cross-country coach at my new school called me to try to recruit me to the girls' cross-country team. I believe the conversation went like this:
Cross-country coach: Hi Emily. I see you're new to the area, and I'd like to invite you to run with the girls' cross-country team.
As far as I was concerned, running was a form of punishment and torture. I knew people who ran for sport and even seemed to *gasp* enjoy it. I easily concluded that they were one card short of a full deck, one bulb short of a chandelier, one crayon short of a full box... In short, they were mad as hatters.
Fast-forward several years...
As a recent college graduate with a cushy engineering desk-job (well, mostly desk job), I had put on a few pounds. In an effort to get rid of these extra pounds, I started working out and trying to eat better. I didn't love working out at first; it was just a means to an end. But I eventually came to enjoy it. My workouts started simple: things like kickboxing, step aerobics, weight circuits with relatively light weights, elliptical, treadmill walking and such.
Over the years, I became fitter and my workouts became increasingly challenging. I looked forward to pushing myself to lift heavier, eke out more reps, jump higher, sweat longer. But when people asked if I did any running, I laughed (reference above conversation with the cross-country coach). I was not a runner. Running was painful, boring, and exhausting. Occasionally, I would hop on a treadmill and slog through a mile or two at a snail's pace with lots of walk breaks thrown in, but that was the extent of my relationship with running.
One day, back in fall of '05, I was working out with some friends in a hotel gym. We all hopped on the treadmills for a quick workout and they challenged me to run continuously for a mile. Oooookay. Sure. Why not? I set the treadmill at 5.0 mph (aka, slow) and got started. At first, I felt good. Energetic, even. But quickly, my energy diminished. My breathing became labored and my legs burned. It was the longest.mile.ever. But I did it. And my friends were all congratulatory and supportive, saying things like "You'll be a runner soon!"
*glaring at my friends* I will most certainly NOT be a runner.
But something inside of me clicked that day. I decided that I wanted to train for and run a 5k race. Just to say I've done it. Not because I was turning into one of those crazy runners. I wasn't going to enjoy the training or anything. I just wanted to tick something off my life list.
And so I trained for several weeks in the late fall of '05 in order to run the Jingle Bell 5k on December 3. Talk about picking a cold one! Brrrrrr! I put on lots of warm layers (and I had no idea what technical fabrics were, so I'm pretty sure all my layers were cotton) and headed to the starting line. I was incredibly nervous - I had never done anything like this before in my life. I was very thankful to have two experienced runner friends with me. Without them, I might not have known that I shouldn't line up at the front of the pack, and that I should pin my race number to the front of my shirt, not the back. The gun went off, and I started running. I could tell pretty early on that I was running faster than I had in my training. In fact, I felt like I was going to die by the end of the first mile and I still had 2 miles to go! My mind swirled with negative thoughts. Why did I sign up for this? Was I completely crazy? I am sooooo not a runner! Everything hurts! I think my lungs are going to explode. I'm never doing this again...
But then something magical happened.
I crossed the finish line.
I finished a race. A running race. And I ran the whole thing. Not particularly fast, mind you (33:54). But I was proud. Looking back on those almost 34 minutes, it didn't seem as painful or horrible as I had thought while I was running it. Maybe this running thing wasn't so bad after all.
Shortly after that, I decided that I wanted to train for and run a half-marathon. That was quite a leap, to go from 3 miles to 13 miles, but my non-runner brain didn't know any better. And so I trained. And just six months after my first 5k, I finished my first half-marathon. Thus began my love of long-distance running.
Since that fateful 5k in 2005, I have run dozens of races ranging from 5k to 10 miles, ten half-marathons, and four full marathons (and counting). My 5k time has improved quite a bit, now nearly 10 minutes faster than my first 5k. I'm still not a particularly fast runner, but I have come a very long way.
Hamming it up at the 2010 Flying Pig Marathon (around Mile 17).
And, despite all my early efforts to avoid it, I guess now I can freely admit that I am a runner.
Peace. Love. Train.