One side-effect of graduating and then not finding a job is that for the first time in my adult life, I have not had access to a gym. Even when I was in high school, my parents paid for family access to the local gym. Then in college, I was spoiled for six years through two degrees by beautiful workout environments paid for by my student fees--so it was basically free access to those who wanted to use it. I always did, and got my semi-regular use out of the bikes and the elliptical machines.
I have never been a runner, not even really much on a treadmill. I'm pretty slow, not very athletically coordinated, and if we're being honest, my breasts have always seemed way to cumbersome to attempt the activity. In my singular year of high school basketball (JV, freshman year, bench-warmer urged because I was tall -- and therefore somehow athletically-inclined?), I was the person who wouldn't finish the blasted 5-in-30s in 30 seconds, making everyone have to do them again. And I had never made it through one mile of running without stopping to walk in my entire life -- not even in my earliest memories of elementary school fitness class. We'd run around the fence outside Woodland Elementary, I'd plug along near last with a crippling side ache.
But then I lost access to a gym, and therefore, to those lovely elliptical machines cushioned by climate control and silent newscasters reporting on the day without the aid of their voices. (I did rather love the silence they were forced into.) And after a few months of toiling away with fitness videos on Netflix and sampling Pilates (which is fantastic, actually), I finally decided I should try one of those Couch-to-5k apps for my iPhone.
Three days a week, for eight weeks. Ok, I could do that. It wasn't a crazy training program with cross-training and diets and five-plus days a week requirements, forcing me to spend hours each time lifting weights and doing push-ups. I don't want to join the military here. I just want to get back in better shape. My clothes were feeling awful on me. That's the first sign something needs to change. That three-day request was what made this whole thing seem totally possible. This was not made for runners, it was made for people like me.
And I'm telling you, if I can run three miles, anyone can run three miles.
Yes, I survived. Not only did I make it to the end of the eight-week program, I was running four times a week -- and not dreading the runs. I felt like I was dying during, but as soon as my legs stopped, I felt amazing. I get runners' post-run high, if that's a thing.
The program starts you off in increments, first you run for 30 seconds, walk for 60, run for 60 seconds, walk for three minutes. This sounds so minimal, but the first time I ran in three-minute increments, it was a really big deal. Even three weeks before I was supposed to be running 3.1 miles, I didn't believe it would be possible. The first time I ran one whole mile without stopping, I felt invincible. That's so silly. It felt like such a triumph, over my own inhibitions in all things athletic. Then, I was running two miles.
Then one day, I kept running past the two-mile mark, and got to 2.4 -- and that felt big, because suddenly the magic Three Miles was not that far off at all. It was right there, really. I ran 3.1 miles the second-to last run in my program, one earlier than it calls for. And then I spent the next two weeks' worth of workouts running 2.5 to 3.1 miles each time.
And then one morning, I ran 4. Just to see if I could. Then my crazy insane friends Ashley and Chris convinced me that if I could do four, well I was almost to 10k, or 6.2. miles. I spent a lot of time pondering this, worrying, wondering if I actually could. But I hadn't died yet, and I would survive this, too, I thought. So I registered for the Annual 10k Gobble Jog in Marietta, a race they were doing, and ran like a crazy person for 1:20:37 seconds on Thanksgiving morning. (For the record, that's still a huge difference and it was a lot harder).
I took three days off after that, and went back out tonight, for a 2.5-mile-run. It felt amazing, all the same things I feel now when I run. I built up endurance using an app on my phone, that I never would have bothered with if I'd had to clock myself manually. And I've tried just going out and running one mile every time I've ever been forced to in my youth or in school--and that never worked either. But by building slowly, well, now I've got it.
And I love the way it makes me feel, running. That is absolutely an insane thing for me to write. If you know me at all, or my family, you know we are not dainty, light-weight, jogging type people. None of us are very fast -- not even my athletic two youngest brothers; they're great at many things sports and fitness, and they do run, but they're not fast at it, and not particularly great at it either.
This wonderful part of my life has arisen entirely out of being forced to think outside the box, try something new, based on my financial circumstances. I no longer had the option of a nice air-conditioned gym with the elliptical machine. I put on two sports bras and hit the pavement. And it worked! And I run downtown, often through Centennial Olympic Park and its surrounding streets, which is always an active, beautiful, and face-filled scenic route--another piece of my pavement time that I really adore. There is nothing quite so lovely as running through Centennial Park as twilight. A blessing, and not the only one to come from this time in my life: health and fitness the free way, with the best view.