A few years ago, on my birthday, not the BIG one, but close enough to the big one, I decided I’d had to make a change. I was leading a life of inactivity that kept me fat and on the couch, getting fatter.
A bad back, that went out as easily as electricity in a lightening storm, was making my life miserable. How many weekends was I okay to miss out on, flat out on my bed, in pain from yet another putting on a sock injury? Always missing out on the simple pleasures in life like my husband taking the kids to fireworks, or tobogganing or out for ice cream. How long would I be okay watching life pass me by with my hand, wrist deep in a jar of peanut butter?
It was time, to take control of my life. I was terrified my children would develop my lifestyle of poor eating and making excuses for being lazy. I can’t exercise today. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too cloudy. It’s too sunny. I’m too lazy!
I was constantly telling my girls they could do anything they set their minds to. “Be open to trying new things,” I would say. “Girl Power”! “Girls can do anything”! But there I was, doing nothing. I was a terrible role model. And according to any of those self-righteous parenting websites the worst mother ever. Side note: I was a somewhat newish mom back then so I still cared what those judgmental harpies thought. I thought I was supposed to.
My daughters were not going to grow up without a mom. I made the promise to myself as much as to them. I would be there for them for a good, long, healthy time. I wanted them to think of me, and me to think of myself, as an active role model they could be proud to look up to.
One brave day, I laced up my running shoes, and at 5 a.m., nobody else needed to witness my bravery, I went for my first run.
Running is quite a generous exaggeration of the motion that was really taking place. I was actually doing more of a sloth, crawling through molasses thing. Still I was proud of myself. I had a plan! I set out that morning deciding that 30 minutes would be a good solid start. I’d take it easy for my first day. No need to show off and make the neighbours feel bad after all. I’d just go one lamp post to the next.
This is no problem. Why hadn’t I done this years ago?
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
I quickly learned on that fateful morning that one lamp post to the next might as well be one mile to the next. My heart was pounding, legs burning, breath wheezing mercilessly in my ears. But I gave it my all. My “all” was three lamp posts and about seven minutes. For anyone who might be curious, you could actually walk three lamp posts in under a minute. But I digress.
As I walked slowly home with my head hung in shame, face red and sweaty, heart still racing, legs and lungs still burning, I checked for my healthcard. I figured when they found me out there in the dark at that ungodly time of the day, they would naturally assume I’d been murdered. I at least wanted them to be able to identify the sweaty body on the side of the road. No need to inconvenience anyone with a splashy investigation.
Looking back, I realize I was way too hard on myself and that what I accomplished that day was pretty awesome. Okay, maybe not awesome for a lot of people, but awesome for me and where I was at that time in my life. I had gotten my lazy bum out of bed at 5 a.m. and had the willpower to take the first steps toward my healthier life.
You know what I did the next day? I got up at 5 a.m. again. And I did it the day after that and the day after that. Each day increasing my run by a lamp post. It wasn’t too long before I could run around my block. It took me 45 minutes but I did it. I couldn’t have been happier that day if I’d won an Olympic gold. In fact, I didn’t say it out loud, because I didn’t want to jinx my chances, but I was pretty sure, Team Canada was going to call and ask where I’d been hiding until now. So, yes, I was a little pumped about that first block! If you’re wondering, I’m sad to say, Team Canada never did call me. But I had moved recently and changed my number so you know, maybe they tried. I guess I’ll never know.
By the end of two weeks, my attitude started to shift. I started to really feel like I could take on the world. I went from a couch potato with a bad back, and a thing for Criminal Minds Marathons to a runner. Obviously, I only called myself that in my head! Because I thought people would laugh and tell me I was out of my mind. Also, real runners ran real marathons, not the Criminal Minds kind. So there was that little detail.
By the end of that first month, I set myself a loftier goal. I would run my first 5K by the end of one year. A pretty daunting thought for a one lamp post, at a time kind of girl. Then it hit me, I wasn’t that couch potato anymore. I was a runner! I went on line and signed up before I gave myself time to chicken out. I felt nauseous the moment I hit send! Once it was official, there was no turning back.
After participating in several “Couch to 5K” clinics, and experiencing a gamut of feelings from self-pity to euphoria and everything in between, running finally clicked for me one day. I started to really love it as my running friends said I would. And wait! What? I had running friends. Friends who were runners. My social life had become less about getting together with friends over food and more about getting together with friends who I had never eaten with! Some of my food loving friends, slowly turned away because they weren’t sure how to relate to me anymore. I hear that happens sometimes when people make major life changes. In my own mind, my street cred was at an all time high. So was my self esteem. I was getting control of my eating habits, my weight and my overall health. I felt amazing.
Less than a year later, I ran my first 5K race. I lost my group at the start line. I had no music. It was hot. I ran the entire 5K behind a hunched over, man I later found out was 92 years old. I paced myself to his pace, staying behind him because I couldn’t catch him if my life depended on it. To this day, that man has no idea how he helped me, a reformed couch potato, meet a goal I never dreamed possible. He crossed the finish line right before me and then I lost him in the crowd. I wanted to thank him but couldn’t. My girls and my husband cheered me on at the finish line. When I saw them, I cried. My friends, who I had cursed for losing me, but instantly loved again at the finish line, greeted me with victory hugs. It was a fantastic feeling.
I’ve run many miles since that first three lamp post run. I’ve run 5k’s, 10k’s and a few half marathons. Every one of those runs has been important in my journey. But I truly believe my first three lamp post run will always be the most important run of my life.
They say the first step is the hardest one you will ever take. I wholeheartedly agree except I would add, so too are the next thousand steps. Some runs are harder than others. I don’t think that will ever change. But now there are more days I feel like I could run forever.
Running has taught me so much. I have learned I am stronger than I ever thought I could be and I can push myself longer and harder than I ever thought possible. Mostly running has taught me to believe in myself in a way nothing else in life ever could.