Small Steps

Well, I’m back from vacation, and before I start talking about how incredible the trip was (with lots of photos), I’d like to talk a little bit about beginnings.

Running is not easy.

I talked with a friend today who was considering starting to run, but was discouraged for reasons I’ll not list here.  So many people are discouraged or worried when starting running (or any exercise, really), if they are new.  I love chatting about races and half-marathons, but my newbie days are still that…new. 

Now that I have a concussion (l was in a minor car accident while I was away), I’m not going to be running for quite a while.  I haven’t exercised at all for two weeks and *just* started water jogging today.  Small steps.

But you know what?  That’s what it is, in the beginning.  As a runner, you are always talking small steps for improvement.

Like much of the world, I recently read the cover story of The Atlantic in which Ann-Marie Slaughter speaks about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” an excellent article which you can read here if you haven’t already.  It’s well worth the time.

One of her points was that women should think of their careers as plateaus, not as a ladder.  I strongly agree with this (and as a bit of a workaholic, and a woman, I think I should talk about this in another post), but I also think it applies to running.

Many competitive athletes will rise and rise and rise again and keep besting their abilities and pushing their talents.  These people are incredibly dedicated and talented, no doubt, but I’m speaking to the hobbyist, human runner.  You know, those people who have time-consuming jobs (but doesn’t everyone), or families with little kids to raise, or an intensive relationship, or are building their first home, or [insert anything that takes up time here].

Most of us, however much we love running, cannot dedicate our lives to running.  It is simply a facet of our personalities, and for some, a way of life.

I have a history of being injured.  Not necessarily from running, but life tends to get in the way.  I become sick frequently, I tore my Achilles tendon, I have weak ankles, and now, two weeks ago, I was in a car accident and I have a concussion as a result.

With me getting injured so much, it’s hard not to get discouraged.  After the time off, I’ll have lost a lot of progress and in order to let my body adapt in a healthy manner, I’ll have to think like a beginner.  No matter how fast I ran my usual route before, I’ll have to take it slowly.

This is not a bad thing.  It’s good to have a little perspective on how far you’ve come.

But it can be very, very frustrating.

So I’m thinking of my running career lately as a plateau.

I ran a little as a beginner, got much faster when I joined lacrosse, and then plateaued, as I focused on my stick skills and ball drills.  Running wasn’t as important as my ability to catch and cradle at the time. 

I returned to running during the off-season to become a better player, achieving my fastest mile time yet, but then I got injured and plateaued again–I had to put running on the back burner and I focused on my studies as I looked toward college.  When I healed, I had a strong season of running, but I got sick frequently during the fall.  While my strength didn’t drop, I just focused on maintaining and hoping I could make it through the Disney Princess Half-Marathon.  I plateaued there as I took a break to work on my studies (I pour myself into my academics and make my class schedule much harder in the spring for some reason). 

I took a break to enjoy being home, and started running again, running much faster 2-mile negative splits.

Now, the concussion.  I’m trying to look on the bright side and taking this time of being sedentary to focus on my writing, cherish my family, go on lots of dates and even plan a party, things I tend to lose focus on when I train my body hard.

So.  Plateaus.  You’re not falling off the ladder if you’re injured–you’re plateauing.

Anyway, I’ve spoken to so many people who have said: “I can’t run because I’m a couch potato/overweight/a sprinter/not flexible/too old” or some reason or other.

I am generally an agreeable person, but here I say: NO.

You can do this.  I firmly believe that almost ANYONE can start running, regardless of age or experience or body composition, as long as you start gradually and build slowly.*

I feel so strongly about this since I was always NOT an athlete. I was always the last person picked for sports teams in gym, person lapped a zillion times during fitness tests, could barely run down the block, much less a mile. I was also overweight (not extremely, but enough to make me feel drained even walking up some hills). I’m not saying this to be all woe-is-me or anything, but just to show you about how far I’ve come.

When I started to run, I had ZERO DESIRE to run AT ALL. I thought runners were on crack or something. I just wanted to prove to the world that I could do it, that I could run a mile (or more). Like sage, my mile when I was younger was around14+ minutes. If you listen to your body and you integrate things slowly (couch to 5k is awesome and I have coached several of my friends using that program), you should be able to do it. It’s just important to go slowly.

And I was totally afraid of running outside when I started. I have the club on the indoor track of the gym for the same reason. There’s this self-generated feeling of invalidity (that I still get sometimes, honestly, it’s hard to think of myself as an athlete despite how much I run/swim/whatever) when I used to run outside that people would make fun of me, or even just me plodding along was not a victory in itself (which just reeks of hallmark card, but I’m going to leave it out there, because it’s damn true).

But once I got over some fears and pushed past my but-I’m-not-an-athlete thoughts, to prove myself, running changed my life in ways I never thought it would.

Starting is difficult. It may suck in the beginning, and it can test your patience. Like some things, I’ve found it easy to fall in and out of love with running. It takes work, and time, and dedication.
^You could replace running with writing in this paragraph, one of my other passions, and it would still fit.

So I say: Get out there.  Try, try, try.  It takes a long time to fall in love with running.  I’m not going to say you get a runner’s high right away, or your legs become svelte the second you finish your first three mile run.  It’s a process, and the process is a continuing one.

But I believe in you, and you should, too.

*Please consult a physician before you start running.  I am not an expert; these are solely my beliefs.  Please do your research!  I highly recommend the Couch-to-5k program for its gradual approach.  You can find it here.

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