by Jodi Gillmore
“I am so not a runner. I am SO NOT a runner!” Not exactly the positive self-talk that one wants going through their mind when out for an early morning jog through the neighborhood, yet if I am perfectly honest, it was the one I heard loud and clear many summer mornings 2 years ago.
After years of being overweight and living with the limitations that my weight put on my life (some imposed by others, like weight restrictions for roller coasters, others I placed on myself because I was too embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit), I had lost 100 pounds through changes in my diet and working out to a DVD in the safe obscurity of my basement. Not happy to sit on the “sidelines” of life after my weight loss, and ready to come out of my basement gym, I wanted to try something new. Something that seemed so effortless for so many people, but had always been difficult for me. I wanted to try running.
In high school I was on the track team, but I never ran more than a warm up lap. I was a thrower – shot put and discus. I lifted weights and worked on my form at practice, but I didn’t run. In PE class I could never actually run a mile during the President’s Physical Fitness Test each year. I tried, but I always felt like my lungs were going to explode and my legs were going to fall off. Not to mention the stitch in my side! So what made me think I should try running now, 20 years after graduating from high school?
Mostly, it was because I wanted to find something I could do with my children. I knew that if I wanted them to avoid the years of inactivity that had been so much of my life, I would have to do more than just tell them to be active. I would have to show them. It was a little late for me to start playing soccer or basketball seriously. Gymnastics or ballet? Probably not going to happen! But we could run together. I knew running would improve my cardio health, and that would translate into better overall health, whether that be riding bikes with the kids or taking a walk on the beach. So even though running was an activity that did not come naturally or easily to me, I decided to try.
I used the popular “Couch Potato to 5k” program and started one summer morning. I chose a 5K that was three months away and enlisted my husband and some friends to be my running buddies for race day. I was slow, but I kept at it, faithfully following the program, even while on vacation. Most mornings were a battle between mind and body for me, but still I ran. Once I reached the 2.5 mile mark, my knees started to hurt – A LOT. I pushed on through the pain, but all the while slowly started to doubt that I could be a runner. The day of the race was the only day that summer that the temperature in Grand Rapids hit 90 degrees. By the time the race began at 6pm, it was hot and humid, my knees were hurting and serious doubts had crept into my mind. I ended up walking the race with a few of my friends who had been planning on walking all along. It was a good day, I had fun, but deep down, I was disappointed. I stopped running, because clearly, that voice in my head was correct, I was not a runner.
While attending a work party with my husband a few months later, I found myself talking with another party goer, who happens to be a runner. Not just a runner, but a marathoner. Not just a marathoner, but one who has qualified for the Olympic trials! So, yeah, basically an expert. I shared with him my story of how I tried to become a runner and failed. He asked me a few questions about my knees. He quickly said, “It’s not your knees, it’s your shoes.” He encouraged me to get a good pair of shoes and try again.
So, with my fortieth birthday looming and the desire to succeed at running, not just for the sake of physical fitness, but also to challenge myself and persevere to complete my original goal of running a 5k, I decided to try again. I went to Gazelle Sports. I bought the shoes they recommended for me. I downloaded the C25K app and I began again, whispering one of my favorite prayers: “God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.”
Once again, I faithfully followed the program. Once again, I ran on vacation, early in the morning, in heat, in cold, in rain. My knees never hurt! I finally put together 3.1 miles of running! It was slow running, but it was running! I decided to celebrate the amazing fact that I could actually run, that something I could not do when I was 18 years old, I could now do just days away from my fortieth birthday. I decided to not just run one 5K, but 12, one every month between my fortieth and forty-first birthdays.
My seventh 5K will be the Gazelle Girl 5K and my 8-year-old daughter will be running with me. She is so excited to be there with me. She has been cheering me on at the finish line almost every race. She doesn’t care what my time is or what place I get, she just sees that I am trying and that’s enough. I can only hope that this is a message she carries into her own life – to try and to be pleased in the trying. I may not be fast enough for trophies or awards. I may even get passed by a really fast walker. But I signed up, I trained, I ran, and maybe most importantly, I was brave enough to try. I am excited for my daughter to see thousands of women, all with their own stories, all running for their own reasons, at various speeds, but all moving forward…all trying to the best of their abilities. How empowering! How inspiring! I think I was wrong that summer day two years ago, I am a runner. A runner for health and exercise, but also of life. I signed up, I trained and I am running…and you know what, if I can do it, so can you! Are you brave enough to try?
Here are a few practical things that I learned to help get you started.
1. Make a plan for training. Research the Couch Potato to 5k (C25K) program and download an app to keep you on track. Or if you want the support of a group and expert coaches, look into the Gazelle Sports training programs. They have options for every level and every distance. Find one something that works for you and actually put it on your calendar. Stick to it. Don’t let busyness or the weather keep you from running. No excuses.
2. Visit a Gazelle Sports to an expert fitting and shoes that are actually good for your feet! Simply walking into the store will inspire you. For a long time, I didn’t shop at Gazelle Sports because I didn’t see myself as a “real” runner and Gazelle seemed like a place for real runners. When I finally went into the store to get advice about shoes, I was treated with such respect and made to feel like I belonged! That day I discovered that I knew two women who worked there and one of them I see quite often. he always asks me how running is going and is full of encouragement.
3. Get support – from friends and family, but also “for the girls” if you know what I mean! Gazelle Sports can help with this too. When I first started running, I used a cheap sports bra that wasn’t very supportive. As a fairly well-endowed woman, I just didn’t feel comfortable running. Shoes and a good jogging bra are not the places to be stingy with your money. A good supportive bra is necessary and makes a huge difference.
4. Talk to the runners in your life. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family who run and ask them your questions. I have found the running community to be so friendly and encouraging.
5. Register for the Gazelle Girl 5K! Find a running buddy to sign up with you. It makes the pre- and post-race events even more fun when you have someone to share your accomplishments with. Since my daughter is running the Gazelle Girl with me, I invited all the girls in her second grade class to run with us. Several of them are joining us and bringing an adult running buddy. Some of these women have never run a 5k before! I am so proud of them and excited for their courage and willingness to be brave and try a 5K with their girls!
I hope you’ll be brave enough to run too, both the Gazelle Girl race, but also this thing called life. I don’t think you’ll regret it! And while running on that Sunday morning in April, if you see a passel of giggling girls with a group of women desperately trying to keep up with them, say “Hello!” I love meeting fellow runners!