I USED TO HATE runners. All of them. Even my friends who run. Anytime someone would start talking about how many Ks they ran, which races were fun, or their new shoes – my blood would begin to boil. I had not just an emotional but a physical reaction.
My stomach would get tight and I would clench my fists. I became angry and annoyed. I would roll my eyes and try to change the subject immediately. If that didn’t work, I would quickly end the conversation or just walk away. I couldn’t bear to talk about running.
My aversion to this popular fitness pastime dates back to my primary school years. Part of our physical education curriculum included a 1.5K run twice a year. That’s over one whole kilometre. And if you could run it in under 10 minutes, you received a special prize. As you can probably imagine, I was never part of the special-prize finishers. Ever. As a chubby child, physical fitness never came easy for me. Especially running. As “Run” day approached, I would grow increasingly upset. Fear and anticipation gripped my little body. My self-consciousness peaked at an all-time high. My P.E. teachers and the fit kids in my class looked forward to this day with excitement—it was treated like a celebration. I dreaded the day.
As I trudged along with my lead feet, I watched my classmates finish in 6, 7, 8 minutes. I wasn’t even halfway there yet. While they stood on the side of the track enjoying Gatorades and orange slices, I continued to struggle, putting one foot in front of the other and gasping for air. Being watched by the kids who already finished was humiliating.
All these years later, when I think about the sense of shame and embarrassment I felt during “Run” day, my eyes still flood with tears. That feeling of not being good enough or not measuring up to other children is something no child should ever have to feel – especially as part of a class at school. When every last child finally crossed the finish line we were each given a little piece of paper with our finishing time, as if I really needed a reminder. The only relief was at least it was over – until next semester.
This is why I was a runner hater. I did not actually hate the people who talked about running. Many of them are my closest friends. I hated the idea of running and the feeling it gave me. The way it brought back all of the horrible memories of “Run” day. In fact, I was jealous of those who ran. I envied their discussions about mileage and races and shoes. The way the commiserated over injuries and PBs. The same way I was jealous of the kids in primary school who got a prize for finishing under 10 minutes. I wanted to be them, but I didn’t know how to get there and I didn’t have the courage to try.
Until one day I did.
I became a runner on May 3, 2014. Three days before my 31st birthday and many years since my days on the primary school track. In the 20 or so years between, my record of lackluster physical fitness continued. My weight fluctuated throughout my teens and 20s. I would try various diets and workout routines with varying degrees of success, but I never found anything that “stuck.” I was also a smoker. I began the habit at the ripe age of 15. I quit on July 1, 2013. Almost 15 years later. Making the decision to quit smoking was life changing and it helped give me the courage to decide to become a runner. If I could do that, maybe I could do something else I thought was impossible.
A good friend and coworker started a 5K sponsored by our place of employment. The first year of the race, I was out of town, which worked out perfectly because at the time I was still a runner hater and didn’t have to come up with an excuse about why I didn’t want to be there. But after the race everyone couldn’t stop talking about how great it was and how much fun they had. And somewhere deep in my body instead of wanting to hate them, I wanted to join them.
For the next six months the idea of running in the next year’s race bounced around my brain. And then I started to do what I did when I decided to quit smoking – I told people about my plan. I knew as soon as I said it out loud to other people I would be accountable. So I started telling people I was going to run the 5K. I started with my husband, who has from day one been my biggest supporter and cheerleader. I told my friends who were serious, hardcore runners. And, much to my surprise, instead of raising their eyebrows and trying to talk me out of it, they encouraged me and pledged their emphatic confidence in my ability. And I started to believe them.
I bought new shoes. Good shoes. I knew investing in this plan was another key to any chance of success. I don’t like to waste money on things. I downloaded a “Couch to 5K” training program. And like with smoking, I picked a date. I quit smoking on July 1 – my youngest sister’s birthday and halfway through the year. I started running on May 3, 2014, my parent’s wedding anniversary. Plenty of time before the late August 5K I had my sights set on.
At first each running minute felt like an hour. During those early workouts my lungs – still angry at my 15 years of smoking – burned. My feet were heavy and at times I felt like that 10-year-old back on “Run” day. But I felt something I hadn’t expected. High. As a freaking kite. It was hard and sometimes I had to stop and start over and I was sore and sweaty, but the feeling of euphoria I felt when I finished was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was hooked.
Three times a week I logged on and worked toward my goal. Every new accomplishment left me higher than before and more excited to tackle the next goal. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with my friends and family. And they acted like every five minutes I ran was 50K. They called me a “runner” which is a title I didn’t feel worthy of for a long time. They talked injuries and shoes and gear and gave me a lifetime’s worth of advice and encouragement that has helped me finish every kilometre.
I ran my first 5K in June of that year and another in July before sailing through the work sponsored race in August. And then I kept going. Running became “me” time, my outlet, and a chance to let go of any stress.
In November, I was on a Saturday morning run and the voice on the MapMyRun App informed me I had run a 1.5K in 9:48. For the first time in my life, I had run 1.5K in under 10 minutes. I got the special prize. My eyes welled up with tears as I thought about the 10-year-old me who never thought this moment was possible. I realised all of those years I thought running was about how fast or far you ran compared to everyone else. But it’s not at all.
Running is a personal sport. Sure, races are timed and there are winners. But when I get up at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and it’s raining and I run my five Ks – I am the only one there. No one is waiting at the finish line with a stop watch. No one is watching me from the sidelines, judging me after having finished the same distance twice as fast. The only person I am compared to is myself. And that’s all the motivation I need.
I am now one of those people I used to hate. I now talk about mileage, fun races, and what shoes to buy. I have a closet full of running gear for every season. Something I used to loathe is now something I love. Running challenges me and has made me a better person. I am happier, healthier, and more dedicated than I have been in my whole life. I will run my first half marathon in one month.
When I cross the finish line, I will be thinking of the chubby 4th grade me on “Run” day. It won’t matter what time the clock says. Only that I tried. I wish I knew that back then – and I wish that girl could see herself now.