Monday, April 2, 2012
Run, Karen, Run
I am not a runner. That’s a phrase I’ve said most of my life. It started back in the 7th grade, where my classmates from Hockaday will fondly remember with me the joy of the 10-minute run at the start of Phys Ed. “I’m not a runner,” I would say in a breathy huff, to somebody, anybody, as I shuffled around in a loop inside the big gym in the dark green shorts and white t-shirt that made up our PE uniform, as if this statement explained away my inability to get through 10 minutes of running without stopping to walk. In high school, I joined the swim team. My feet didn’t have to hit the ground, I didn’t have to sweat and most of my effort came out in short bursts. I was a sprinter. No long distance anything for me. In college, while some of my friends were enjoying a different kind, I got addicted to the endorphin high that comes from a good long bout of cardio. My early twenties, AKA the step-aerobics years, started me down a path to good cardiovascular fitness. At the time, I had no idea it would be 13.1 miles long.
“I’m not a runner,” I said to my friends, in 2006, when I signed up with Team in Training to participate in an Olympic-distance triathlon, “but I might just try.” Over the intervening years, after my step had fallen woefully out of fashion, I’d cobbled together sort of a half-run, half-walk routine. It usually got me through three to four miles, though I probably only ran a mile or two. For the triathlon, I would have to run a 10K. 6.2 miles was new territory. The coaches helped, as did a lecture on running form. But I was still walking. In both races I did that following spring, I couldn’t get through the run without breaking for a walk on a regular basis.
“I can be a runner,” I finally said, to myself, late last summer, and signed up for the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas before I could change my mind. Why Vegas? The run was at night, on the strip, with all the lights and people. I needed motivation, I needed the race to seem fun, and I was willing to travel to make that happen. The marathon was in December, so I had thirteen weeks to train. I scoured the internet, asked runner friends and finally culled together a training plan, all printed out nicely, so I could check off each workout. And then I just did it. I became a runner. Slowly, starting with interval training, and building my walks right into the workout at first. I ran four minutes, then walked one minute. On a treadmill, because it was still too hot in early September to run outside. It was boring, but I kept at it. And then I worked my way up to running ten minutes and walking one. I lived for that one minute for a while. I built up my distance. And then something changed. As the end of the minute approached, I realized I was eager to start running again.
“I am a runner,” I said to my parents and my friend Jimmy, when I finally found them in the mob scene that occurs when 44,000 people try to run the same race in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. On December 4th, 2011, I ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 12 minutes. The only time I stopped to walk was as I passed through each water station, and only long enough to get a good drink without sloshing it all over my face. Just for good measure, I ran a 15K in February, freezing my ass off on one of the coldest days of this past winter in Dallas. And about a week ago, I ran half-marathon number two, the Rock n Roll Dallas. And despite continuing issues with knee and hip pain, I finished in 2:09. I’m not the fastest runner, and probably not the most graceful, and if I want to keep going, I’m going to need some coaching because without changing my gait somehow, the knee pain is threatening to do me in. But I think it’s safe to say I am a runner now. What’s crazy is that I actually like it.
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed my 94-year-old grandmother for an online magazine (read it here). She talked to me about what it’s like to be her age. About how important it is to keep on living. “Nobody’s too old to try anything they want to do,” she told me. She went on to say, you have to keep trying new things, even if you don’t succeed at them, because it keeps you young. She took up tap dancing for the first time at 77, which makes my discovery of running at 37 look like small potatoes. Except that it proves her point. Because, despite the achy knee and another birthday next week, I feel great.