This is the start of a multi-part series, the length of which has yet to be determined, where I’ll be talking about the ups and downs (and more downs…) that led to my “learning” to run. Believe it or not, it’s more than just “left foot, right foot, repeat”! Let me make it clear that there are two kinds of runners: those who are born runners, and those who become runners. I’m definitely the latter, as I started my running regimen when I was very, very overweight and could barely run one minute without begging for death to take me!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin!
In late April 2008, I graduated college. A week later, I moved out of my sardine-can studio apartment in Boston back to my hometown on Long Island, just for the summer while I awaited moving to the midwest for my first “real” job. Like any 22-year-old I wanted to enjoy this summer with my friends, with alcohol, with fun in the sun, and with plenty of parties.
Before I could laze around my house, my family (brother+wife+kids, sister+hubby+kids, mom, dad, best friend, boyfriend) and I went to Kauai, Hawaii to celebrate the end of my undergraduate career and my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. It was one of the best vacations ever but I had a 2-month lull between when we returned home and when I was to start my job.
At first, I assumed the usual routine that I’d had in nearly every summer vacation in high school:
- Wake up at around 9:30am.
- Grab breakfast from the kitchen. I’m from NY, so that was usually a freakin’-huge plain bagel with tons of cream cheese and lox. I would also put about 1/4 cup of lox spread (cream cheese blended with lox) on the side because I would eat the soft part of the bagel first, then fill the well with lox spread (think like a sushi roll) and then finish the bagel crust that way.
- Make and consume copious amounts of coffee while plopped on the sofa. Each 12oz mug of coffee actually contained about 8oz of coffee and 4oz of flavored, sweetened coffee creamer. I’d go through a regular-sized bottle of the stuff in about 10 days, max.
- Watch a ton of corny daytime TV. (My usual routine, I kid you not, was Maury followed by The Price is Right, a courtroom show like Judge Alex or Judge Judy or The People’s Court, then the TLC lineup of A Baby Story, A Wedding Story, and What Not To Wear.)
- Eat lunch, which was commonly something like a huge sandwich. I’d use white or potato bread and have the following layers: bread + mayo + turkey + mayo + american cheese + mayo + salami + mayo + bread. I loved mayo.
- I’d break up my TV watching with snacks such as a box (which contains 8 pouches) of Gushers fruit snacks, at least a half bag of Cool Ranch Doritos or Cheetos Puffs, and/or I’d make a half batch of cookie dough… and eat it raw. (I wish I was joking about the last one, but I’m not. I did this so often that I had the sugar cookie recipe memorized.)
- Eventually my mother would come home from work, at which point I’d help her with dinner. Dad would come home, we’d eat, chat, then I’d go out with friends and get ice cream or get dessert at the local diner… or just drink!
It was no surprise that by doing things like this in high school and college resulted in some crazy weight-gain. I faced this issue head-on when I saw the photos of me from our trip to Hawaii. The photos I took of our trip didn’t really include me (a common occurrence when you’re the photographer) but my father’s photos definitely showed me in an unflattering light.
Fortunately for you, I can’t find any of those photos but here is a photo of me and the boyfriend from my album:
This and far too many pictures made it painfully apparent that I had ballooned. But how?
The obvious answer would be “college”; however, it’s not necessarily the culprit. When I started college, I actually lost 23 pounds from September 2003 through November 2003. I was involved in sports, which somehow must have more than compensated for my very traditional college eating habits: late-night pizza, buffets at the dining halls, lots of ice cream, and plenty of vodka and beer on the weekends. Once I quit the sports to focus on my schoolwork, I slowly gained back the 23 pounds I’d lost… and an additional 15 or so.
I decided one thing as soon as I saw those photos from Hawaii: step on a scale. It was awful. I remember my heart sinking when I saw the number: 172.5 – To this day, I consider this to be the most pivotal, life-changing moment I’ve experienced in my life (thus far).
I joined a great weight-loss and goal-setting website to track my eating habits and learn how to exercise. I educated myself on food and assessed how I was eating at the time, then made changes based on my new-found knowledge. On the message boards at the aforementioned website, I learned about the “Couch to 5K” program: an interval training program to get you from a couch potato to be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping (or 3.1 miles).
Everything changed the moment I hit the pavement; the C25K program was the catalyst I needed.
I was absolutely petrified to start the program, as I’ve always been terrible at anything cardiovascular or aerobic. In high school and junior high school gym class, I’d run the mile in about 13 minutes (and when I say “run” I mean I would sprint for about 1/8 mile, then huff and puff when alternating jogging and walking, ultimately concluding with me being red in the face, hyperventilating, and having to go to the nurse). My best mile was in 9th grade when I did it in 9 minutes 17 seconds (but had to be rushed to the nurse in the end anyway!).
The first day of C25K is to walk for 5 minutes to warm up, then alternate 60 seconds of running with 90 of walking for a total of 20 minutes before doing another 5 minute cool-down. I vividly recall how awful I felt after the first 60 second run, but not just physically – I was so distraught that I was struggling so much. I had an internal dialogue with myself that was something like this:
- During the warm-up walk: “It’s only 90 seconds! Let’s do this!”
- 30 seconds into the running: “…how long as it been? 30 seconds??!!!!
- 45 seconds into the running: “What is wrong with me? I can’t believe I’m so out of shape… I can’t even run a minute!”
- 59 seconds into the running (which was more like dragging my feet at this point): “This is good enough.”
- During the first 90-second walk: “I should just walk home. This is pointless. I’m beyond help.”
The embarrassment I felt was immense. I imagined that people who were driving past me were thinking, “Look at this poor fat girl trying to haul her ass up that hill! Look! She gave up and is walking now! Haha!”
Even now I don’t know how I had the courage to continue during that first day, but the important part is that I did.
When July arrived and I had to move to Kentucky to start my new job, I had lost about 13 pounds. Not too shabby for 8 weeks! The C25K program was not complete; not only is it a nine week program, but I also had to repeat week 6 because it was so tough and I was not comfortable moving on until I could do that week with confidence. I had fully intended to continue the program when I moved to KY, but unfortunately I stopped.
I’ll leave Part One of this series off here. Just wait in anticipation for Part Two, where I talk about my time in Kentucky, my big move to California, and how I reached running goals after a running hiatus!
In conclusion, here are five tips about starting a running regimen, for those of you who have that internal monologue with yourself like the one I had on Week 1 Day 1 of C25K:
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Though cliche, this is very important. In my head I thought running for 60 seconds would be easy-peasy, but it was anything but. Thinking you should be able to do something then not being able to will just create unnecessary frustration. Don’t be a pessimist and think it’s not possible at all, but don’t focus on those ideas of grandeur just yet, which brings me to my next tip…
- Set small goals. For me, I would set mini-goals along my running route to achieve, and I still do this today. “Just make it to the next stop sign,” or, “Run until the end of this song [on my iPod].” When I’d reach that mini-goal, I would set another one. Next thing I knew, I’d passed 5 stop signs or run through 3 songs on my iPod.
- Sorry, but you’re not special. I used to give myself a pity party, telling myself that I’m too fat, too slow, too lazy, or too tired to run. Even now I tell myself I’m too out-of-shape (since I don’t run as often as I did when I was in training mode) to run more than X-number of miles. Well, guess what: neither you nor I are the most inept people to take on a feat like this. There have been much larger, much older, and much more disabled folks who have tried such an undertaking before. We’re not special little flowers, so no excuses (unless you have a real injury or medical condition – then, see a doctor)!
- Forget everyone else. As I mentioned already, I have a habit of thinking people are judging me when I’m out running, not just when I started but even today. I would think about what the other runner across the street is thinking about my form, if the cars driving near me are thinking that I’m ridiculous for running in the rain, etc. But I just mentally slap myself and say, “Forget everyone else – I’m doing this for me, not them!”
- Celebrate! Enjoy the triumphs! If you ran a minute longer than you did the previous week – pat yourself on the back, at least! If you complete a training program (like C25K) get yourself a little something as a “congrats!” to the awesome, fit, driven person you are! No accomplishment is too small to tell yourself, “I’m awesome!”
Stay tuned for Part Two!