I have a love/hate relationship with running. As a tall, gangly, pre-teen, I got feedback from my softball coach about my running style. My long legs didn’t result in a long stride, and after getting a hit, I was often arriving at the base just before the ball. Family being what it is, my siblings translated my coach’s criticism into, “You run funny”, and after hearing that a few times, I decided I would do whatever was necessary to avoid running.
Avoidance worked for a long time. My teen years were focused on volleyball, which brought its own challenges to my still-gangly body. My high school boyfriend was an accomplished long-distance runner who did his best to get me to join him, without success. I was too self-conscious, and also too other-conscious. His speed, stride, and overall energy for running embarrassed me. I can say now what I couldn’t see then: that his running was strong and beautiful and desperate, given all he was trying to outrun. Running probably saved his life.
As an adult, cycling became my primary sport. On the bike, I felt coordinated, capable, and fast. I started cycling long distances. I completed the 3-day Boston-NY AIDS Ride in 1999 and 2000, both of which were transformative events. After a few years and a few more multi-day cycling events, I started to look for something new. (I do that a lot, I’ve been told.) I didn’t want to stop cycling completely, but I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to push myself and feel the same sense of accomplishment I had after the AIDS Ride. Somehow, I landed on My Next Thing: triathlon.
I’m a decent swimmer, and that’s the shortest part of the tri, anyway, so I knew I could train and get ready for that leg. The biking would be easy. But, there it was, the last hurdle of triathlon, lurking at the tail end of the race, taunting, daring me to come for it: running.
I found list of area triathlons and picked a sprint-distance race in Lowell, MA that August. I then set out to become a runner. I approached running with a rational, almost academic attitude (I do that a lot, too, I’ve been told). I got Runner’s World magazine from the library. I joined my local running club and their weekly “Walk to Run” program. And I started running.
It was awful. It hurt. I couldn’t breathe. I got side stitches. I was slow, plodding. I hated it.
And it pretty much stayed that way for years, even as I kept on running and doing triathlons. I became a regular at the women-only Title 9 Triathlon, and even recruited family and co-workers to race with me. I would train and prepare, and every year, the run would suck. I would lose time, have no energy, and usually give up and end up walking (just for a minute or two). It never got better, or easier.
For the 2013 race, I had a new strategy. I embraced the suck. The run was going to be rough no matter what, so what was the point of “saving my legs” during the bike? I went all-out, aiming to finish in an hour and 25 minutes, which would be a personal best. With only a mile to go on the run, I checked my watch and calculated that I was close to hitting my goal time, but only if I kept on running. As the photo shows, (you can see most of the clock over my shoulder) I crossed the finish line at 1:25:17, 4th in my group.
Little did I know that about 6 months later, I would be sidelined with plantar fasciitis, a common and incredibly painful injury which, at its worst, felt like someone was jamming an ice pick straight up my heel. It took over a year to recover, including several months of physical therapy. I gave up on running, feeling that I finally had a good excuse not to run. I wasn’t interested in risking a relapse for an activity that I didn’t enjoy in the first place.
It was winter 2015 when we moved to Amsterdam, and the walking and biking was enough to keep me fit. Another year went by without any running. And then, at a work event in January of this year, maybe over a beer or two, a friend convinced me (“I’ll do it if you do it…”) to join the company team in a road race in September. The Dam to Dam is a 16 kilometer – that’s 10 miles for you non-metric folks – race from Amsterdam to Zaandam. At the time I was coerced into participating, I had never run further than 7 miles in my life.
And here we are, less than four weeks away from the Dam to Dam, and I am a runner. Again. Or maybe at last. I connected with a running group (old habits) and have been training three times a week. Last week I ran 17.6 km. In the course of one of my long Saturday runs, I decided that I would also do the Amsterdam Half Marathon in October, because, why not?
The truth is that I am enjoying running for the first time. Maybe it’s the group and the support. Maybe it’s the short hop from our apartment to the Vondelpark, where I do my weekday workouts in the peace and stillness of the early morning. Maybe all the biking got me in better shape, so the running is easier on my body. I probably still run funny. (Who doesn’t?)
In the past when I ran, I would think primarily about how much I hated running, which was not terribly productive. Now, I run without music, and that gives me a lot of time and space with my thoughts. But more on that next time…it’s taken me about as long to write this as it does for me to run 10km (I’m still slow and plodding) and I need to get up early for an interval workout.
One foot in front of the other…