Four Years Later: What I’d Say to my Newbie-Runner-Self
Five years ago, I was morbidly obese, sedentary and ignoring the health crisis sitting in my lap. Maybe I ignored it because it was my lap, but either way, I washed away whatever feelings I had with Mountain Dew and made excuses for another round of chips and salsa, all the while telling myself I wasn’t that fat or I didn’t need exercise to be a fit person or I was just another Monday away from cleaning it all up.
Heifers, you know my story.
I started eating better and then joined Jenny Craig, which gave me the consistency, structure and accountability I needed at that time to keep me going with healthier choices.
A year later, I laced up a pair of sneakers (they weren’t even legit running shoes) and went for a run.
You can imagine how that went over. It wasn’t a glorious triumph of grace and dignity. It wasn’t smooth soles rolling over the pavement, one gliding step at a time. I didn’t lift my chin to the sun, close my eyes and feel empowered.
Heifers, I struggled. I’m pretty sure my kids could have walked beside me and still beat my pace that day. My feet thudded against the pavement, one resounding blow at a time. I hung my head, my cheeks flaming red and aware that anyone watching me could see what was going on: a former fat girl was trying to get in shape and didn’t know what the hell she was doing….blessherheart.
I won’t lie to you and say I found some spiritual self who didn’t care about any of these struggles, who wasn’t embarrassed by my own body or who didn’t feel defeated that day. I wish I could. The fact is, I got home from that run and felt pathetic. Who did I think I was? Did I really think I could just go outside, with a pair of shoes, and run?
People train for this. People start this when they were teenagers not when they were middle-aged mothers of four. People had bodies built for this, and mine clearly wasn’t one of them. Mine was built for bonbons on the couch.
The next day, though, like Britney Spears, I did it again. I got up, put on my shoes and went outside. It wasn’t easier. I wasn’t any better. That first run didn’t set off some special fireworks inside of me that magically turned me into an athlete after 40 years of surfing nothing but the couch or the web. Nope. I was still at square one but I was at least on Day 2, and that was further than I’d gotten before.
After a while, I worked my way up to running longer than the length of a few houses. It took some time. It wasn’t easy. Then it was a whole row of houses. Then it was a few streets. Then I got new shoes, and my feet and knees thanked me. Then I felt confident enough to buy running pants. A few weeks later, I actually wore those running pants. In public.
Along the road (literally), I learned a few things, and with four years of running behind me, I have some perspective on the whole process. I think back sometimes to that first run, the day I became a runner, the moment I chose to move my body instead of plop it down in front of the computer or back on the sofa. I think about the woman I was then, and there is a lot I’d say to her. Forty-eight months later, I’d like to run up alongside the woman I was that day and give her some advice.
What would I say? I'm glad you asked.
I’d start with this: every step is an achievement. Every. Single. Step. You may not feel like a badass runner out here today, with your old tennis shoes, ratty sweatpants and stretched out tank top. You may feel, every time you have to slow down or walk, like a failure, but I am here to tell you: you are killing it! The hardest part of life, of any achievement, adventure, struggle or goal, is showing up. The hardest part is right before you start. And look at you…you started!
Every time you take a step, whether it’s a slow step or a fast step or a walking step or a jogging step, you’re achieving something greater than you did a yesterday or an hour ago or even a minute ago. Every single step matters, and you should celebrate them, even if they add up to a tiny amount, even if you only have to use one hand. Tomorrow will be two hands and then fingers and toes and then you’ll stop counting at all. But every step matters, so string them all together, add them up and celebrate this moment, one step at a time.
I’d also point out that nobody is judging you, and if they are, they’re assholes. But mostly, people are just driving past you and thinking: man…I should have enough energy to get my butt out there and workout, too! Or, I wish I could run. Or, look at her…she’s out there doing it. Or, and here is the #NoBull truth, people aren’t thinking about you at all.
I’m not trying to be mean, but most people driving by are thinking about their appointment or boyfriend or kids or vacation or a million other things people think about as they cruise through the neighborherd. It’s not that they don’t care that you’re out there gutting it out in a Phoenix summer. It’s that they care a little more about their own stuff, as they should.
So don’t worry about what people are thinking when they see you huffing down the street or stopping mid-way down a block. Most likely, they’re either admiring your effort or, probably, not even thinking about you at all. Either way, it has nothing to do with you because you’re not running to impress anyone and their opinion isn’t what drives you.
You don’t set goals for anyone but yourself. So put on your headphones, press play on your favorite song and get in the zone. Nobody is judging you, and even if they do, it doesn’t affect your run.
I’d also tell new-runner-me that it gets easier AND better. In fact, after about six months, it gets fun. After your chest stops burning and you learn how to breathe, it’s not such an effort. Once you learn proper form, your knees don’t take such a beating. Once you get the right shoes, your ankles and shins don’t ache. Once you lose another twenty pounds, the whole process is easier and suddenly you’re out looking for new, cool outfits to wear to a race and signing up for a 10k.
You never imagine you can jog a few blocks, but over time, you will. Then, a few blocks will be your warm up. You’ll hit a point when it’s hard work but it’s not miserable hard work. You’ll hit your stride. The key here is to know when you’ve hit your stride and not try to compare it to someone else, whether that’s your running partner, the twenty-year-old kid who just lapped you (again) or a fitness model in a magazine. You’ll learn, with time and a lot of miles under your belt, what your own personal zone is, and when you get there, you will feel it. It gets easier. It gets better. And it’s totally worth it.
I’d also say that every time you log a run, you show yourself and the people around you love. Not a love of being thin or a love of being perfect. It’s not a love for the sport of running or triathlons. What you do when you take care of yourself and work hard to develop a better you is show the people around you that you love yourself.
You aren’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to validate you into taking action. Every time you do something hard, that’s a struggle, that challenges you, you change. It doesn’t even matter if you succeed by someone else’s terms or definition: just the fact that you’re out there doing it means you’ve already succeeded. There is no measure of success greater than loving yourself and taking care of you. You set the tone and example for your kids. You let people know, every time you workout, how you feel about yourself and expect to be treated. You don’t even have to say a thing; the message is loud and clear.
Finally, I’d tell the newbie in me: you’re brave. You. Are. Brave. Losing weight and changing your life isn’t easy. Our society seems to swing between airbrushed models on one hand and 40-year-old housewives who can polish off an entire pizza on the other. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that healthy is somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to hide behind the idea that before you can get outside and run in front of God and the world, you have to be a particular weight or have achieved a certain fitness level. It’s easy to talk yourself out of even trying, and it’s even easier to come home from that first run and vow to never do it again, the shame of your sweating, panting body overshadowing your desire to be fit. The coward in you whispers all sorts of negativity about the size of your thighs or boobs or stomach.
But every day, every run, every stride is you being brave. It’s you turning down the volume on everyone who ever expected less, even you – especially you. Don’t discount what you’re doing as some everyday exercise that millions of other people do. Appreciate how much courage it takes to get out there, extra weight and years of body shame behind you, and hold your head high and get it done. You. Are. Brave.
In the end, the mechanics of running can be taught; the details don’t matter nearly as much as the motivation behind them and the heart it takes to not just start a running program but to stick with it.
I want to tell every single new runner out there, especially the ones who have tried in the past and failed and are ready to try again: YOU CAN DO THIS!! What you’re doing is truly amazing. What you’re committing to is the best thing in the world: your own health and happiness. The pacing will come. You’ll get the right shoes. You’ll find your race crew and celebrate victory laps. But most importantly, you will challenge yourself and change yourself. Running is just your vehicle to get there.
So send us your running pics, tell us your stories and join The Herd of runners who may not fit into XXS LuLuLemon pants but who are out there doing it anyway!