Starting to Run at the Very Beginning

Accepting the beginning stages can be the hardest thing you can do as an athlete, and maybe the most courageous.

My finger hovered over the “share” button on Strava, and I wondered if I maybe should make my most recent workout private. I had run 1.76km in about 12 minutes, 30 second. In fact, I hadn’t even really run for the whole run; I had alternated running and walking – one minute run, one minute walk.

It was not much of a workout, and suddenly, despite the cutesy self-deprecating title I had given the post (First “run” in 100 years + laugh-cry emoji), I didn’t want anyone else to see it.

I’m a professional mountain biker, and I’m used to sharing workouts on Strava that make me look fast, strong and capable. I’m used to getting a handful of virtual trophies every time I upload a new mountain bike ride. More generally, I am used to being good at things.

I am not good at running.

But I used to be good at running. I ran track and cross country in high school, and while I wasn’t world class, I was respectable. I ran 5Ks in the low 20s, and a mile, or 1600m, around 5:30. But somewhere between high school and uni, my foot started hurting, and kept hurting for the next four years.

I stopped running and started riding bikes. I built a career as a cyclist, and raced my bike all over the US and the world. My foot injury slowly resolved, only to be replaced by a laundry list of knee and hip issues, and a few more traumatic injuries thanks to the brutal nature of my sport. I made a few false starts at running again, only to be deterred by knee or hip pain.

“I have grandma knees,” I’d joke to my friends. “Whatever, I don’t really like running, anyway.”

But the truth is that running was my first love as an athlete, and while I didn’t care to run marathons, it bothered me to be physically unable to run. And I certainly didn’t like the fact that at 27 years old, eight years after I quit running, I was staring at a Strava workout that informed me that I had just run 1.76km at an 7:13 pace.

But I was oddly proud of it. Yes, it was slow compared to how I used to run, and yes my knee would bother me for the next three days, but it was a start. One thing I’ve learned in my career as an athlete is that to get anywhere, you have to start.

And most people never start.

For me, this run was was a bitter reminder of how far I had to go, but it was also an acknowledgement of my starting point. And this time, I was determined to embrace that starting point and build from there, in the hope to avoid yet another injury. I knew that if I wanted to be a runner again, I couldn’t start with a 3K run. I had to start with core work and physical therapy and one minute on, one minute off.

I had to come to terms with where I was – and let go of “where I thought I should be”. The fact that I was a professional athlete in another sport and used to run was irrelevant. All that mattered was that I walked out the door and run/walked for 12 minutes.

Accepting your starting point – especially when it is miles from where you want to go – is the hardest thing you can do as an athlete, and maybe the most courageous. I was proud of myself for attempting to run again after eight years away from it. I was proud of myself for getting out the door.

So why did I have such reservations about posting it on Strava? You could just make it private, advised part of my brain. Nobody needs to know.

Then I remembered that I spend half my life advising beginner mountain bikers to be accountable to others with their goals, start at their starting points, and not worry about what other people think. Despite all that, I had somehow forgotten how difficult actually doing that was.

I took a deep breath. I removed the quotation marks from the word run. First RUN in 100 years.

I hit share.


Syd Schulz is a professional mountain biker and hopefully a future trail runner. She blogs about bikes and fitness and life at sydschulz.com

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