One month ago, I couldn’t run more than 1.5 miles without complaining and feeling like I was about to collapse.
It’s not that I’m lazy. I work out occasionally and can hold my own in workout classes. But running is a different story. In my opinion, running is one of the hardest forms of exercise because it takes just as much mental energy as it does physical.
Up until about 3 weeks ago, I hated running. It was boring. It hurt my legs. Blech. I didn’t understand how people could run miles and miles, yet I envied them. I envied them because runners seem like the toughest crew around and I wanted to be part of that. I had tried over the years to run more than a mile or so, but I just couldn’t do it.
One runner in particular that I admired was Emily. For as long as I’ve known Emily, she’s been a runner. A real runner…a marathon runner. Occasionally while working on Quarterlette together, I’ll hear her talk about an upcoming race and say: “I would love to do that! This month I’ll learn how to be a runner!”
6 months ago I even downloaded the iPhone app. “From Couch to 5K” to get my booty in gear. It was all very exciting. I was going to train to run a 5k (roughly 3 miles) in time for the Color Run in NYC. This was it!
Unfortunately, about a month into my training – with 1.5 miles under my belt - the Color Run booked up and I didn’t get to register. “That won’t stop me”, I proclaimed. “I’m still reaching my goal of running those 3 miles even if I don’t have a race to work towards.”
Well…that didn’t happen. Without any motivation, I got bored. And busy. Bye, bye runner.
I still gazed longingly at runners on the street, but I just figured I was not cut out to be one myself.
Then, a few weeks ago, Emily sent an email to some friends asking to join her in a 5 mile (8K) run in support of Brain Cancer Research. A few years ago, Emily’s brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation and is now (thankfully) in remission. Immediately after reading the email, I knew that I wanted to get involved to support her, her brother and the cause, so without thinking twice, I signed up. Right after registering, however, I realized that it was a 5 mile race (not a 5k) and that the most I had ever run was 1.5 miles. The race was less than 2 weeks away.
I was pretty intimidated. I called Emily and asked her if I could run some of the race and walk the rest of the way. She said yes.
After getting her approval to run/walk, I had these visions of coming in last place, but it was for such a good cause so I didn’t even care. Game on.
The weekend before the race, I ran 2 miles. Afterwards, I fell asleep in my bed. A few days later I pushed myself to run 2.5 miles and then 2.9 miles…but JUST barely. I honestly couldn’t do anymore than that. I figured I would try to run 3 miles and then walk the the remainder.
A few days later, it was race day and I was excited. I even found a running buddy – a high school friend who recently ran the Philadelphia Marathon (hardcore) but offered to run/walk with me. I told her that she could sprint off at any time…I didn’t want to hold her back. But she assured me that she would stay at my pace.
As I approached Central Park, in my new running gear, I got nervous again. Everyone looked legit and super athletic. Everyone looked determined and focused. I was freaked out. It might not seem like much to runners, but 5 miles for a complete non-runner is daunting.
As I lined up with my friend at the corrals, the race announcements began. While listening to the speakers, I started to notice all of the t-shirts and signs around me in memory of loved ones. Sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, friends. I had, of course, previously seen public displays of love in memory of friends and family, but I had never witnessed it right before I was about to embark on something that scared me, all in support of those who the t-shirts and signs were honoring. It definitely fueled me.
Minutes later, the race began and I set the pace for myself and my friend. And that pace was preeeetty slow. All I wanted to do was get through 3 miles and then we could walk and run the rest of the way. I figured if I went slowly, 3 miles was totally doable. But the one downside of being slow is that you have to handle people passing you, sprinting ahead, showing off. I tried hard to ignore them and stay focused.
Then something great happened.
Mile 1 came. I felt fine. Mile 2 came. I felt totally fine. Mile 3 came. People were stopping to walk. Why wasn’t I super tired? I stopped for 15 seconds to get a drink and thats all I needed.
During mile 3, as I was starting to hurt (this was the longest distance I had ever run in my entire 28 years), I noticed a woman running in front of me wearing a t-shirt with a photo on the back. As I got closer, I could see that the photo was an image of a little boy playing on a beach. On top of the photo were words in tribute to this little boy who had passed away.
It was heartbreaking. For all I knew, this was the little boy’s mother in front of me.
At that moment, I knew I would run the full 5 miles without stopping. No pain in my legs, or shortness of breath, could even compare to the pain this little boy’s family must have experienced. No excuses.
Mile 4 came, with some uphill battles, but I was fine. Tired, but totally fine.
“Ray – it’s the last mile!” said my friend. “You can do this!”
The last mile was great, knowing that I accomplished more than my goal and that I pushed myself to do something which was both challenging and scary for me.
As we passed the finish line, I didn’t want to pass out. I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse. I did feel a bit spacey and weak but simultaneously energized and great. Definitely a high of some sort (they aren’t kidding when “they” – those who run and the doctors who write about it – talk about a runners high).
I don’t know whether it was the support from my friend who was running beside me, the motivation to run for Emily and her brother, the slow (but steady) pace I kept, the energy of the crowd, or the emotion surrounding everyone who was there honoring friends and family who had been affected by this horrible disease, but I ran those full 5 miles.
It was my longest run.