I have hated running all my life. I’m not good at it (probably because I’ve avoided it whenever possible.) I wouldn’t have fallen in love with CrossFit if the protocol had included extensive running. The boxes I’ve worked out at usually have 400 meter runs in their workouts, if they have running at all. The “run a 5K” day turns up from time to time. I usually skip those days.
But I know running is important, and really good for the heart. It’s also an incredibly convenient and inexpensive way to work out. So I started running on my own when we moved to New Orleans. Well, actually I started running with my husband, Andy, who shares none of my dread of the exercise. He’s a pretty fast runner, but on the day I decided to go with him, he promised to take it easy.
When someone tells me they’re going to take it easy on my behalf, it kind of pisses me off. I don’t want to be so behind you in ability that you have to “take it easy” for me to participate. So not only was I grumpy about running, I was grumpy about him helping me run.
“Don’t worry about me. You just run ahead, and I’ll follow you. I’ll holler at you if I need to stop,” I told him. The idea of him running beside me with a sympathetic look on his face as I struggled was too much to bear. I’d much prefer following so he couldn’t see how pained I was. Yes, I know I have a sickness. We made it about three miles that day, and I hated every step. I tried to go fast enough so that I could at least keep Andy in my line of sight, and I was miserable. When we got back to the house, I was almost purple from exertion.
When I expressed my opinions on the run, Andy started questioning me. He has never understood how I could kill other workouts, but will cower at a simple run.
“So what is it EXACTLY that’s the problem when you’re running? Is it your legs? Your breathing?,” he asked.
“It’s everything,” I said. “I feel like I’m breathing so heavy, and I can’t get enough air. My legs get really tired. I feel panicked,” I said.
“Just slow down,” he said. “You’re plenty fit enough. It shouldn’t be that hard. You’re just going too fast.”
I may have heard this advice before, but this time, I promised myself that I’d take it to heart. If I went as slow as I really wanted to, I’d be going quite slowly indeed. But I had to get over this compulsive dread, and if it took running like a turtle with broken legs, maybe that would be what I had to do.
My next run was a solo endeavor. I knew that even if I really, really wanted to set my own pace, I wouldn’t be able to stand it with Andy, or any other runner, nearby.
The day was perfect for running – sunshine, mid-70’s temperature. Clipped to my shirt was my trusty MP3 player. My goal was to run for ten songs – I figured that would be at least 30 minutes, depending on the length of the songs that popped up on my “shuffle” mode. I walked for a block or so to warm up, and then I began to run. Or maybe to jog. Or maybe my MP3 player wasn’t the only thing on “shuffle” mode. I forced myself to slow down to a point that felt ridiculous. It felt more like a walk with a bounce than a run. I waited for people passing in their cars to begin staring and pointing, and possibly heckling.
After a couple of blocks of complete disregard by the public, I began to get over myself, just a bit. No one else gave a damn about my running speed. I’d set up demons in my mind that nipped at my heels every time I ran. These demons were pride, envy, ego, fear – all the self-absorbed vices.
I made it through the run that day. As I ran, I took physical inventory – I wasn’t breathing all that hard, not anything like an intense CrossFit workout. My legs were strong, and if I was truly objective, I knew they were capable of running miles and miles without faltering. I assessed my joints – a little creaky, but not really pain. It was more discomfort.
Slowing down had turned something that was a real source of stress to me into something that was manageable. And slowing down made me less fearful of attempting to run. Once I gave myself permission to move at my own pace, I found that I could do a hell of a lot more than I thought. Before the month was up, I was running close to ten miles at a pop. I didn’t do it more than once a week, but that was because once a week was what I needed to complement my other training. It wasn’t because I couldn’t abide facing the run more than once a week, which is how I felt in the past.
I would like to say that I could set my own pace if I was in a race, or running with any group at all, but I don’t know if I could. The drive to compete is still very strong. But I learned something, even if I could only stick to it when I ran alone. And this knowledge at least made me think about how I approached other things in my life. What if I slowed down, and took things at a pace that I set because it was right for me, not a pace I set because I thought it was what I was expected to do? Would I see the same great results? I would at least keep these questions in mind, as I went through other “races.”
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