Something I wrote in my journal this past weekend:
Sunday, November 13th, 2011
Today I ran. For the first time since middle school I ran with the purpose only of running. I was exercising, true, but I could have chosen any of the hundreds of activities available to me–and I chose to run.
I also walked. Forty-five minutes is impossible to run straight through when you haven’t done more than sprint a yard or two for over eight years. Even back in the dreadful compulsory PE days when I had to run just about every day I was NOT good at running. Plagued by my physically-induced asthma and not predisposed to athletics those years of always being told to ‘simply go faster’ (as if there were anything simple about it), to run longer, to be better, scarred me.
I wouldn’t be able to breathe, fire in my lungs rushing up to my throat, constriction, gasping, head pounding, body protesting. It wasn’t that I was lazy–I was out of shape and medically impaired. Had someone simply told me it was alright to do my best instead of measure myself by those running past me I probably would not have scorned exercise for as long and ended up in the lard-like mess I found myself a year and a half ago.
Instead I was punished for my shortcomings–my grade was lowered because try as I might I could not run the mile in less than ten minutes (I was always less than 20 seconds over, usually around 12). I was penalized for not meeting any of the “presidential” speed requirements, even though I exceeded many of the strength requirements.
In high school I, gratefully, waived PE because I was getting exercise through an encouraging marching band program which I excelled at. Unfortunately, as I attained leadership I decreased overall physical activity. I started college as the heaviest I had ever been. Then through a series of painful events I became depressed, an emotional wreck with the self-confidence of a wilted dandelion, and I continued to put on the pounds.
I hit a breaking point my junior year, and with the support of Y, I lost 30 pounds. Since then I’ve gone back and forth in my level of exercise–I’ve not put on significant weight (more than a pound or two or three fluctuation up or down as is bound to happen to any person, especially any female menstruating person) but I have lost muscle mass and become a little squishy.
With my new job, I plateaued. Busy hours, long days away from home leading to being exhausted and not wanting to exercise after standing and talking for five hours a day, and concentrating on learning the job and not on my health has kept me from being as active as I would like (but definitely more continually active then ever before my great weight loss journey).
So today I faced the fear I had harbored the longest–the fear of and insecurity around running. Looking adorable, as one should when facing any challenge or confronting any fear; in black leggings, aqua shorts, a pink ribbed ‘boyfriend’ style tank top, white SMU hoody, completing my look with two messy braids and perfect makeup I headed out to the Huff N’ Puff trail.
I parked, put my key and phone in my hoody pocket before queue-ing up the perfect running mix, and then I took off. Those first few steps were a leap of faith, but also a test as much of me as of the ground beneath me. Starting at jog I found was not enough. I broke into a full on sprint and glided as fast as I could over the uneven ground of the wooded trail.
Faster, higher, travel farther! At the apex of that first dash I recalled vividly and viscerally a moment in my childhood where I had flown from the garage to the house when I lived on Ryan Road. As an adult I will dutifully tell you that unaided flight is impossible, because of course it is, but deep down in my memory I know that flight is possible–because I’ve flown. Traveling high with steps far apart brought back a small inkling of that feeling of flight–out of time, truly alone, and completely free.
About three hundred feet from the end of the loop I felt an old familiar pain–a burning from the pit of my stomach to my windpipe and back of my throat. I found it hard to breathe, but I didn’t want to stop. In that moment of panic one part of my brain screamed, “I can’t give up, I can’t give up” while another reminded me about a blog post I had read somewhere that had to deal with training yourself to run. It recommended very short runs at first, perhaps a minute long, interspersed with several minutes of walking. Over time the walking was supposed to become less and the running more, but it would be a lengthy process. Panic quelled, I slowed to a quick walk in order to recover. Most importantly for me, I kept moving, excited for the day when I could finish the loop at a run.
For the rest of the 45 minutes I continued to intersperse one-minute full-out sprints with recovery walking periods. I walked quite briskly, even though at the end of each sprint I felt a strange tightness, not-quite-pain, and felt it very difficult to breathe. Running truly shows you how out of shape you are. It was interesting, however, that it was not really my main muscles that were slowing me down, it was my inability to continue to oxygenate myself while running.
I intend to continue running, to show myself just how brave I can be and what a silly aversion it was. I don’t care that I cannot run for very long, that I have to stop to breathe, that I probably look like a decapitated and intoxicated chicken, or the fat kid in every PE class who can’t keep up, because I feel like a strong goddess-type female force untroubled by any thought save that of going faster.
It is likely that I shall never become a great or fast runner, or even a good one. But I am proud that like my complicated emotional aversions to: all vegetables, almonds, meatless meals, to weight training and jazzercise, or exercise in general, to opening myself up during public singing, to crowds and bustle, to independence and a social life and saying “no” and confidence, I have finally realized that there is no reason not to try running again. Also like those other aversions, my willingness to give running another go has taught me that while I’m not a whiz or a phenom or even a physically fit runner, I like it.