I never thought of myself as an athlete. As a child, reading was my sport of choice. When mama sent me outside to play, I’d tuck a book into the waistband of my shorts and recline under a shade tree. A tiny, delicate girl, nobody looked at me and thought, “there’s our next star athlete.” When it came time to pick teams, I was a bargaining chip. (You can have HIM if you take HER.) Other than one very determined and seemingly misguided PE teacher, nobody made an effort to turn me into an athlete, either.
That changed when I started yoga three years ago. My jelly donut of a belly tightened up. I found my core! I started believing in my body.
Last March, after two months of deliberation and hours setting up the perfect playlist on my iPod, I started walking. My first walks were plodding half-mile affairs. I moved at a snail’s pace from my house to the pool and back – half a mile. Then I graduated up to the elementary school around the corner – a mile. My time dropped from 26 minutes a mile to 22. Then 19. My distance increased to two miles. Then three.
Around that same time, some of the girls in my yoga class started running. They inspired me so much that I decided to run, too! In June, after talking to my friends and reading everything I could find on the Internet about running, I downloaded the Couch to 5K (C25K) app on my iPod.
C25K is a great way for beginners to become runners. Three times a week for eight weeks takes you from nine one-minute runs interspersed with 90-second walks to running for thirty straight minutes.
The higher the temperatures rose, the farther I ran. My easy, every day run became the mile and a half loop around my neighborhood. Weekend runs were two to three miles on Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was the slowest run you’ve probably ever seen, but it got results. I lost weight, my booty shrank, and the endorphin rush was out of this world!
It’s sad the Lt. Dan 5K organizers don’t have a trophy for last place finishes, because I earned it! Thanks to shin splints that started in the first quarter mile of the race, I did my own personal portrayal of Forrest Gump (before the braces fell off), walking stiff-legged through the streets of downtown Beaufort. My friend, Myrna, signed up the morning of the race and ran for the sole purpose of making sure I didn’t quit. I wish I could say I’d have finished either way. Honestly, without her pushing, prodding and encouragement, I’m pretty sure I would have joined the crowd lining our downtown streets and waited on the parade to start.
Luckily, I signed up for both races early, because the dead-last finish would have discouraged me from signing up for another 5K in this decade…or lifetime! Whatever.
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was a much easier event. My baby sister, Carita, her beautiful daughter, Astrid, and I walked along with seventeen thousand other participants. (Yep – 17,000!) We finished solidly in the middle of the pack. No shin splints! No last place finishes! That sure felt like success to me.
In the last year, I’ve walked and run over 200 miles.
I dropped my time from 26 minutes/mile to 18 minutes/mile.
I finished two 5Ks.
I learned about myself in the process.
I love running alone on deserted, residential streets late at night, or through a national wildlife preserve, communing with the alligators and egrets.
Getting fitted for the right shoes is as essential as sweat-wicking panties!
No matter how much my body wants to quit, my knee complains, my shin shrieks, the endorphin rush waiting for me at the finish line is worth the effort.
There is no worse feeling than watching the pack recede further and further into the distance. My times for my races were within two minutes of each other. But psychologically, it’s easier for me to be crammed into the middle of a swelling pack of humanity than trailing stiff-legged behind a small crowd of much fitter and faster athletes.
It is essential to practice your parade smile and wave, just in case the parade catches up to you! (And thanks again to the nice Beaufort Police Department officer who trailed me in his squad car, lights flashing, to make sure the parade didn’t overtake me!)
The last runner gets the loudest applause! Mostly because the crowd knows the parade starts next, but still…I take my wildly infectious, foot-stomping, clapping, shouting encouragement any way I can get it!
Best of all, I learned that frail, skinny little girl who was me is an athlete.
I am an athlete. I am a runner. My run may not look like yours, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to look like mine.
Question: What have you done lately to expand your idea of yourself? How have you taken the idea of who you are and turned it on its head? And if you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?