A year and a half ago, I would never have thought I would be a runner.
In seventh and eighth grades, we had to take the Presidential Fitness challenge. They made us run a mile without ever having previously made us do anything more rigorous than throwing a ball or sprinting across a gym. And so as I jogged and secretly power-walked around the reservoir during the mile run, I was pretty sure that this was what Hell looked like.
I hated everything about it. The way my lungs burned. The way my muscles strained and joints ached. The way I couldn’t count reps to know how much more I had to go.
In high school I joined the volleyball team and spent two weeks in intensive double sessions of training. We dove, we squatted, we built up bruises and then tough skin on our inner arms, and for the most part I enjoyed it. But every morning we would go out to the pond and run.
This was even worse than the mile, because we ran an arbitrary amount and I was expected to keep up with the group. Our coach would tell us a certain number of laps of the pond to run, but that was no guarantee that it would be over after that. I panted my way around piles of goose poop, hopped over branches, and asked God why we had to run more than any team but the soccer players just to stand in a fifteen-foot square and hit a ball.
When I quit volleyball I said it was because I was nervous about completing my schoolwork with practices and games, but it was mostly because I got upset at the thought of running more.
So now that I’m running a 5k practically every morning, I can feel the old me staring in disbelief. Wondering what’s wrong with me.
I think it started when my friend Alex became a runner. Or before that, when I started going to the gym regularly and built up a tolerance to the elliptical machine by medicating myself with a large book at every workout. Or you could argue that it was when my friend Ariel explained that you had to start running in small doses, to build up the bones in your ankles, and that it was okay to build up from there. But last spring I got on the treadmill and got started, and now I’ve been interval training for a month and a half to build up my stamina for outdoor running.
Sure, sometimes I still hate it. When I have a stitch in my side and it’s 90 degrees out at 7:30am and my calf hurts and my sweaty hair sticks in my eyes, I wonder what the hell I’m doing. But I like the feeling of my body as an efficient machine. I like the pounding rhythm and the expanding of breath in my chest. I like waving to other runners and looking at the people and places around me. And I like not feeling guilty for my after-work beer.
I’m thinking about training for a 10k. When I get to marathon aspirations, you’ll know something is really wrong. And at that point, when it’s clear that I’ve been taken over by a RunnerPod, you know what you have to do:
Shoot me. If you can catch me.