Plot twist: running doesn’t actually suck

Written on February 24th, 2016

I’ll be honest: I’ve never been a star athlete.

In kindergarten I played soccer, and instead of chasing the ball I would carefully pick dandelions to give to my mother (and eagerly await snack time).

In elementary school I often found myself at the back of the crowd when we performed the pacer test or adventured through the woods on cross country skis.

By the time I hit middle school my focus was already firmly fixed on writing, coding, and design, and I never felt the desire to try out for a school sanctioned team.

The sports I did choose were pretty unconventional – I was never the classic softball or basketball girl, and while show skiing definitely does require talent and dedication, it’s of a different breed than the endurance you get from running sprints.

I’ll sum it up this way: I was always convinced that I was legitimately dying when I had to run the mile back in high school.

Then I got to college. A friend of mine convinced me to sign up for Madison’s Homecoming 5K, and as much as I hated to admit it, I knew I’d better get training. My miles averaged twelve minutes on a good day. My heart rate escalated so quickly it was ridiculous, and by the end of a 30 minute workout my breath took what felt like a lifetime to come back to me.

I felt overwhelmingly like a wimp; I knew I’d never been the strongest or the fastest, but until then I hadn’t understood just how feeble the level of my athleticism actually was.

So I kept training. As someone who is blessed with genetics that have kept me pretty slim regardless of what I eat, I’d never before appreciated the value of working out like I learned to in those weeks.

I ran that 5K, and I did it in 32 minutes – and I was pretty damn proud of myself. Sure, maybe that’s a conventionally “slow” time, but three miles is three miles, no matter how long it takes you.

And that’s one of the best things about running, I realized: a twelve minute mile is just as far as a six minute mile.

Running is for everyone. It doesn’t discriminate. You can hop on a treadmill or a track and even if you barely make it ten minutes without stopping, you’re still lapping everybody who’s sitting on the couch. It’s such an individual sport that you are able to set your own goals without feeling the pressure of matching the person next to you. You can start from wherever you are.

And the benefits of fitting some running into your daily schedule are endless. Too many people look at exercise like it’s merely for losing weight, when in reality it’s so much more multifaceted than that. I’ve actually gained weight because my muscles have become more toned. My stomach looks slimmer, and my thighs jiggle less when I walk. I have more stamina; I can take the stairs to the sixth floor classroom where my art class takes place without panting up the last flight like it’s Mount Everest.

More than anything, I feel great about myself for putting in the effort to be healthier. It’s as much of a mental thing as it is a physical one; when I get up in the morning and get a workout in before class I feel like my whole day is on track.

So here’s the thing, and I’m just as surprised as the next person: running doesn’t actually suck.

In fact, it’s pretty amazing once you get going. It’s challenging, it’s open ended, and it’s personal. You can do it anywhere. You can start anywhere. And honestly, you can go anywhere.

There might be moments where your heart is racing and your feet are begging to be freed of the weight of your body, but it all becomes worth it in the second two weeks later when you hit a new personal best. One of the most important things is just swallowing your pride and dealing with the mental battle of going back on what you thought for years to admit that running actually isn’t entirely horrible.

I never would have thought I’d say it, but it’s true: running has become a part of who I am.

I couldn’t imagine going back to the way I used to avoid running, and I can’t believe I used to groan at the mere thought of going for a jog. I kick my past self for always saying so confidently “I’m not a runner”, because I’ve truly come to believe that everyone is a runner – the title really isn’t elusive.

At the end of the day, all you have to do is pick up your feet.