The first time I ran a mile I cried. Not from pain or exhaustion, but from pure pride and disbelief in what I had done. I realize that to some that may sound silly. A mile is not all that far, after all. But for me, at that time, it was.
You see, I had a fully formed, rock solid belief that I could not run. No way. I couldn’t do it. It was not the type of exercise for me. While I had been relatively active at various times in my life, I had never run. I tried a few times and it went very badly. Shin splints. Back pain. Chest discomfort. Extreme shortness of breath. You name it. Up until recently I was never super fit, so I didn’t have the endurance and lung capacity to run. Also, I am a fairly small person with a very large chest. I say that honestly because it is a real factor in my ability to run. It is extremely difficult to find supportive sports bras and it can be quite painful on my back to run without them. With these factors combined, and an excruciating memory of attempting to run outdoors once and having bruised, painful shins for a week afterward, I was convinced I would never run.
So when I started getting active last year, I started simple. I walked on the treadmill. As I found myself walking for longer periods of time, I increased the pace a bit and increased the incline a lot. Walking briskly at a steep incline will definitely help build lung capacity. This was my first step toward running, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Then as I started to incorporate high-impact aerobics into my workout routine, I decided I just needed to search and search until I found a bra that was sufficient. I scored a discounted Adidas sports bra at Marshall’s that did the trick. I’m sure it’s still not quite the experience others have with bodies built for standard sized bras, but it worked well enough. Step two was complete.
The third step was strengthening my core. I was really just trying to get better looking abs, quite frankly, but what ended up happening is a strong mid-section and strong back that supported my upper body. I still had no idea that I was preparing my body to run at this point, but I absolutely was.
One afternoon on the treadmill, I got crazy. Call it the adrenaline or an endorphin rush if you like, but I decided I was going to run. I didn’t know how far or how long, but I was going to try it. No one else was in my little apartment fitness center and if it went horribly awry, no one would know but me. I lowered the incline, took a breath, and started cranking up the speed. Now this wasn’t a super fast run, but it was most definitely beyond a walking pace and into a real, brisk jog. Then, I ran.
It was hard. My breath was rapid. My legs worked hard. I started to watch the distance tracker increase on the treadmill screen. When I reached a half a mile, it seemed amazing. Wow. I had run a half a mile. How far can I go?!
I kept on, spurred by a new found excitement. 1 mile. Done! Shit. I really made it a mile. I have NEVER done this before. Keep. Going.
Somewhere around 1.3 miles, my breathing was very heavy and my legs felt tired, so I slowed it back down and stopped. It seemed surreal to me. Over one mile and I didn’t have to slow down to a walking pace during the entire distance. I had never done that. Ever. I had fully believed it to be impossible for me. My body had just shocked the hell out of me and I was amazed at what it could do. I went back to my apartment where my partner Josh was and told him (in what I’m sure was excited, rambling, fatigued gibberish) what I just done. He (supportive as always) congratulated me and shared in my excitement.
I then went to take a post-workout shower. As I stood in the water, I cried. The mix of emotions I felt at that moment was overwhelming and needed to be released somehow. My mind fought with itself (it does this a lot, actually). It went something like this:
“Oh my goodness. I never imagined that I could do that. Who knows what else I can do now??”
“Okay, Shannon, settle down. It’s a mile. People do it all the time. This is nothing special. It’s not that far, really.”
“People do it, but I don’t do it. I wonder if I can do it again?!”
These sorts of thoughts battled it out in my head, and I cried. I have, of course, been proud of myself for various accomplishments in my life, but I hadn’t ever felt this particular type of pride. This new realization of what my body could do was so intense, so exciting, and so full of possibility.
That was about 8 months ago. Since then I’ve been slowly pushing myself to increase my stamina, my speed, and my abilities; and I am constantly surprised at what my body can now do. My first 5k felt like am amazing accomplishment and knowing that I have a real shot at getting to a half marathon within the next year is incredibly exciting. I have gained such an amazing new respect for the physical body – my physical body – and understand it in a way I never did before.
I have also fallen absolutely in love with running. I still balance my workouts with other forms of exercise as well, but I run at least two days a week. Saturday mornings are my ‘big’ run days. I wake early, lace up, and head out into my neighborhood. My mind shuts off (this is a very rare thing, let me tell you); my stress subsides for that period of time when it’s just me feeling my feet hit the pavement and the morning air fill my lungs. I have noticed how my breathing is becoming increasingly even and smooth as my body adapts to running. I feel my legs staying fresh longer and the whole process seems to be becoming more and more intuitive.
It is my favorite part of the week. And while I haven’t cried again since that first mile, each extra 1/10th of a mile added onto my trip and each extra second or two shaved off my pace still amazes me.
I am a runner.