My first mile story is less about the first physical mile of my running journey, and more about the mental miles it took to get me to finally realize that I could really be a runner…
Setting the Stage: The Introvert Seeks Relief
People are always surprised to learn than I am extremely introverted. Like, off-the-charts-would-prefer-to-never-talk-to-anyone introverted. I hide it well: I’m the office party planner, I manage a team of 20+ people, I go out of my way to chat with people in elevators…you know, extroverted stuff. By the end of the day, though, I come home mentally drained and wound so tight that my shoulders are almost to my ears.
Since I haven’t figured out how to succeed in life without interacting with people, I look for other outlets to nurture my poor, exhausted, introverted soul. I ski, ride my bike, SCUBA dive…things that are fundamentally non-team activities. These are my times to recover without someone demanding my attention or wanting something from me; the only times when I can be truly alone in my head. Ahhh…wonderful peace and quiet…
But let’s face it. These are not spur-of-the-moment activities. It’s not like I carry a ski-able mountain or dive-able lake around with me in my car. And if I did live close to a ski hill or the ocean, there’s a lot of gear to collect and prepare in order to enjoy these activities. Even a bike ride requires that I go home and get my bike…and then be confronted with the sad looks on my dogs’ faces that I’m going out without them.
I needed to find something else that could be done anywhere, anytime, with gear small enough to keep with me at all times.
You Mean the Point of Running Isn’t to Pass Out from Lack of Oxygen?
I always wanted to be a runner. I imagined how great it would feel to just get outside, alone, enjoying nature on my own terms. But I never thought I could. My earliest experiences with running were elementary school gym teachers declaring “everyone run 10 laps around the track!” and me passing out from an asthma attack within the first 200 yards (yup, I’m old enough to remember when tracks were measured in yards instead of meters). And the few times I did make it all the way around without my eyes rolling back in my head, the teacher would be yelling at me for not going fast enough and my classmates would be laughing about how slow I was. Not really an auspicious start to my running career.
Fast-forward about 20 years, and my friends were getting into endurance running and I started getting jealous of the cool locations they competed in and shiny bling they were bringing home. I went to some of the races as a spectator (thanks to my scrapbook addiction, I make awesome signs if I do say so myself), but it just wasn’t the same.
So I tried adding in a few sprints during my morning walks, but still couldn’t go more than a block or so without wheezing. I would never be a runner.
Oh, the Trouble I Can Find When Left Alone for Too Long
Until one day in early 2013: I was gaining weight. I needed something to fill my time while I waited for my husband to return from a year-long deployment. The weather had been too cold to take our older dog on her morning walks and I needed motivation to get moving. I was at work more than I was not at work. I was quickly becoming a hot mess.
Then my friend Mike called and said he was signing up for the Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon, and would I be interested in coming down for the weekend? Food and Wine Festival is my favorite event at Disney World; of course I was up for a trip! But wait! I couldn’t let him do something fun at Disney World without me…
That was it. The motivation I needed. If I signed up I’d have 10 months to train. And while running is a trigger for my asthma, long-distance walking had never been a problem. So even if I couldn’t get the whole running thing down, I could walk the race and still be ahead of the pace requirement. And I’d have a reason to go to Food and Wine. And I’d get a shiny medal. Ooooh…Shiny!
Yes! I Am a Casual Runner!
Getting over that I-have-to-only-run-to-be-a-runner mental hurdle took some time. I first turned to Mr. Google to research what other people said about it. And then I talked to a couple of my friends who used various walk/run training plans. I consider myself a pretty logical person, but it took a while to give myself permission to consider myself a runner if I couldn’t run the entire distance without walking.
I started out with one of the Galloway beginner half marathon training plans from the runDisney website. And I started very slowly…10 seconds running to 1 minute walking. Six months later I did my first half marathon (Navy/Air Force Half Marathon in Washington, DC) at equal 1 minute intervals. My goal was to finish upright and not dead last…and I did! I completed a half marathon and met my goals! I was a real runner!
Now I pick races that sound like fun, are in cool locations, and result in shiny bling. I almost always wear a costume or sparkly skirt. I’m usually in the last 10% of finishers at any given race. And I have an excuse to be completely by myself for several hours three times a week. I am a (slow and casual) runner!