Learning to Run

I used to say that I only ran if someone was chasing me. One of my fiercest childhood friendships was cemented on the track in junior high gym class; Amy hated the forced march around the track as much I did, so we joined forces to create an imaginary world in which I was Midnight and she was Blade. We needed to escape the reality of running so badly we created new gang-banger identities. So, yeah, you wouldn’t call me a runner.

But when I saw my 40th birthday looming on the horizon, I started to look around for a structured way to meet some kind of fitness goal—any kind of fitness goal, since I was carrying 30 pounds of extra weight (still workin’ on that) and I had never really been able to jog a mile. In my 20s I smoked, drank beer, ate junk, and seemed to bounce just fine; in my 30s I quit most of that to have babies (thank you babies!), learned to eat veggies from the farmshare, and still put on a middle (thank you babies!). The 40s were obviously going to require (gulp) exercise. And I knew that for me to exercise, there had to be both structure and fun involved. In January I bought a jog bra and downloaded a Couch to 5K app.

This is the part where I sing the praises of the Y, the blessed YMCA where my husband exercises regularly, my kids swim and bound around the gymnastics apparatus, and I can tuck them happily into Child Watch while I work out (or, yes, sometimes whip out my laptop in the hallway and meet a deadline). That, my friends, is the only way a freelancing mom like me—who’s trying to keep her childcare bill down to just three days a week—can squeeze in exercise without sacrificing precious sleep time on either end of her day. Glorious Child Watch. I planned out three workouts a week.

How does one hurdle past excuses? I don’t know how to work the treadmill and I’ll look like an idiot. I don’t have the right socks. I might hurt myself. My earbuds will fall out. I’ve always hated it. Somewhere in the middle of a grueling New England February, I needed a change so badly I finally climbed up on the treadmill and opened the app.

And proudly walked. That’s how it works. Walk five minutes. Jog one minute. You can do that, although the first time it was kinda long, that minute. Walk five more minutes, then jog a minute again. Keep doing that until you’ve logged 30 minutes. Next week you’ll be jogging two and three minutes at a time. This tortoise approach is not for everyone, but I needed the walk time to figure out how to run. What’s that button? Hallelujah! It’s a fan!. That gal really looks like a runner, what is she doing with her arms? Whoa whoa whoa that’s the incline button. Duly noted. Oh hey, I can listen to my workout playlist and still hear the app tell me when to switch to running. OH. (More about that later.)

Life is full of detours, but if I think of them as interruptions instead of derailments, they’re easier to take. It’s August. I should totally be running a 5K by now, according to my beloved app. But yes, there were weeks I didn’t run at all, and few nasty spring viruses that interfered, and the end of the school year, and . . . I would just repeat the last week of workouts and build back up again. For my birthday in June, I bought myself new running shoes.

And then I got stuck. I was running 10 and 12 minute intervals, and my workouts were taking me over about 2.5 miles. Getting close to the 3.1 miles of a 5K race. But I was conserving energy and jogging slowly to keep going over those longer stretches, and it suddenly wasn’t fun. And I knew that, for me, unfun would prove deadly to my exercise efforts. Somewhere in there, I had discovered the runner’s high was real—I had grown to love that feeling of dialing up the speed on the treadmill when it was time to run, and cranking it up higher during the really rocking parts of my favorite songs. I could count on the endorphins to light me up. You know what’s more fun than jogging? Running fast. How did I forget something I knew when I was five?

I put away the app and starting running to my playlist. When the music says walk, I walk. When it picks up, I jog, and when it blasts, I sprint, stretching out for as long as I can go. I’m happy to report that the joy is restored to me; in the mirror across from the treadmills I caught myself grinning.

Here’s today’s fun run:

29 minutes, 2.25 miles (for me):

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part 1 – Flaming Lips (4:47 – brisk walk)

Queen Bitch – David Bowie (3:18 – take it up a notch)

Everyone Chooses Sides – The Wrens (4:40 – this one’s got some great sprints)

Heavy Metal Drummer – Wilco (3:09 – loose and free)

Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads (4:19 – jog or walk)

When You’re Falling (Remix) – Afro Celt Sound System (4:38 – Go! Push through!)

The Plan – Built to Spill (3:29 – cool down)

Here’s tomorrow’s:

30.5 mins – how far this time?

Muzzle of Bees – Wilco (4:56 – warm up, though that guitar solo might pump you up)

I Have Patience – Mark Mulcahy (5:05 – this one gets me started really–I think it’s the lyrics! I tend to have a little sprint at the end)

Lady Marmalade – Patti LaBelle (3:55 – chug along there, sexy)

Boots and Pants – Spouse (4:16 – flat out)

Crazy – Gnarls Barkley (2:58 – not rocket science)

Stand – Sly and the Family Stone (3:07 – great for interval sprints)

Pride (In the Name of Love) – U2 (3:50 – sprint the choruses)

Caribou – Pixies (3:15 – cool down)

New goal: 5K in December, with a smile on my face. If you exercise, how do you do motivate? If you have a playlist, what’s on it?