Friday, June 22, 2012

Having the Courage to Start

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
-John Bingham 

I remember what running was like before I became a runner.  We used to do “the mile” once a year in school, and every year I dreaded that day.  I wasn’t even able to run the whole mile, and in the short stretches where I did manage to run, my throat burned and my legs felt heavy and sluggish.  I didn’t understand how some people in my grade could finish in six minutes.  I especially didn’t understand the few people who seemed not just unfazed by this relatively short ordeal, but actually seemed to enjoy it.   

Skip forward to high school.  The summer before sophomore year, I quit tennis and gained ten pounds.  This put me on the chubby side of “healthy weight,” and as an insecure fifteen-year-old girl, I would do just about anything to lose that roundness.  I started jogging for thirty minutes a day with my favorite music queued up on my brand new iPod (my first mp3 player ever).  I used that music to distract myself from my own masochistic behavior.  I hated running.

I started playing soccer the following year.  I had played before when I was much younger, but as a defender – not a running-intensive position.  My junior year of high school, I was assigned as a midfielder.  That’s right – the position where you run from one side of the field after the ball to the other side of the field… and back again.  Strangely, I wasn’t bothered by this.  With all my focus on the game, the running was just a natural motion.  Follow the ball.

My senior year, I was one gym credit short of graduation, and there was no way I was going to run around and get sweaty only to change back into my nice, clean uniform and go to class.  I was a teenaged girl, let me re-iterate, and keeping my hair and make-up frizz and smudge free was a top priority.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a serious student, but you can’t blame me for wanting to look good acing my tests. 

So what was I to do?  I needed one gym credit, but I wasn’t willing to take the class.  Fortunately, my high school had a policy that if a student played two seasons of any sport in one year, they would receive one gym credit.  So I added cross country to my sports repertoire.

And that was when I realized that I no longer hated running.  I actually kind of enjoyed it.  Here I was, running 3.1 miles each weekend for our cross country meets, as well as participating in hours of soccer practice that involved a lot of running.  My throat still burned at the end of a 5k as I sprinted to the finish, but I noticed something else: the exhilaration of the runner’s high and the immense satisfaction of accomplishment.

Since then, I’ve re-examined my relationship with running.  I’m glad to say that I’m a runner, a full-fledged runner who makes long runs, interval training, and weekly mileage a priority.  And most importantly, running is no longer something that I have to do to lose weight or get a gym credit.  I do it because it clears the cobwebs from my head, it gives me a burst of energy to start my day, and it makes me feel strong and healthy.  All this because I started something nine years ago and stuck with it.

If you’re debating whether to start an exercise routine, here is the advice I have to offer.  First: give lots of types of exercise a try.  You never know what you might find you love: dance, cycling, running, martial arts – there are so many options out there.  Second, and more important: just start.  Get moving, and stick with it.  You might be surprised to find that once your body has adjusted to the new challenge, you actually enjoy it, not just for the results, but for how it makes you feel.

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