I’ve always believed exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. I also know no matter how strong that belief is, I still have a heck of a time motivating myself to get up, go out, and just do it. So, my preferred workout is one requiring only the barest minimum of prep and little to no travel. In my late teens and twenties, that activity was running. All I needed was a good pair of shoes, shorts/sweats, and a top. Back in the day, I wasn’t running 5Ks or marathons or even on the cross-country team in high school or college; I just liked to get outside, run til my mind cleared and calmed, and come home relaxed, happy, and sweaty. In my thirties, though, my body started rebelling against the running that had previously come so easily. Hip pain developed that defied diagnosis (turns out it was/is tensor fascia latae issues), knee pain, ankle pain, and foot pain soon followed. I tried step aerobics with a girlfriend, tried Jazzercise, did some yoga classes, joined the Y and used the elliptical, treadmill, and weights; but none of these endured and all had the drawback of requiring me to get in the car to get to them (and kind of look decent).
A few years ago, at a high stress time of my life, I knew it was either figure out a way to work it out through exercise or start drinking a lot of martinis. Drinking martinis didn’t seem like a mature approach to the situation, so I started walking … a lot. Over time, as my mileage increased, I lost weight, gained fitness, and drastically decreased my overall levels of anxiety and stress. I’d found a good solution to my workout needs and gained that elusive peace of mind in the process. I thought I’d put all thoughts of running behind me at last. Then, last November my husband and I walked a Turkey Trot 5K. For those not conversant with the lingo, a Turkey Trot is one of many cutesy names given to Thanksgiving Day 5K running events. These events usually have equally cutesy logos and shirts associated with them as well — I made sure to choose a Turkey Trot that was convenient AND had a cool race shirt because let’s be honest — swag is important to me. As I watched the runners rushing by, though, I started feeling nostalgic for the days when I, too, was a runner. It started me thinking that perhaps I’d too hastily shelved running. I wondered if perhaps there were a way I could try again.
After the holidays, I confided my Turkey Day 5K wistful wish to a friend (who also happens to be a runner and a running coach) and also shared my concerns about sustaining injuries and being sidelined. She immediately responded, “You should do interval training.” Huh? Interval training? She explained that interval training was simply running and walking. It sounded reasonable, but also kind of lame. “But I wouldn’t really be a runner then,” I blurted. This incredibly fit woman who was my running icon and was preparing to leave for Florida for the “Dopey 50 Mile Challenge” just smiled and said, “Well, I’m a runner and that I run all the time, even marathons. I kept getting sidelined too and realized this was a way to run without injury.” I was gobsmacked. Real runners actually WALKED sometimes during their runs? And it was considered legitimate and not lame? Wow.
At her suggestion, I downloaded a free interval timer app, set it up for 3 minutes walking/1 minute running, laced up my shoes, bundled up the rest of me, and hit the track. At first, I wasn’t sure about this. I kept remembering how I used to be able to just knock out five miles without even thinking about it. I was certainly having to think about it on that first dark, cold run around the elementary school track. Then it happened – I forgot about how I used to run and started just feeling good that I was running. About ten minutes in, I started smiling and I kept on smiling for the next fifty. I didn’t run fast. I didn’t run pretty. I didn’t even run the whole time. In the end, none of that mattered — I was running again. After an hour, I stood panting at the side of the track and had a moment of perfect clarity and happiness. I was truly ME. And if that isn’t living big and sparkling, then I don’t know what is.
Since that first night, I’ve built up my mileage and speed slowly; I’ve been kind to myself and when I overdo I give myself and my body a break. Since that first run around the track, I’ve completed four 5K runs and have gotten over my sense of somehow being less than other runners. I’m not the fastest, I’m not the slowest, and each event is a mini-celebration of my ability to move past old assumptions and beliefs. I continue to set new goals, which gives me a sense of accomplishment, and best of all I’ve added that deeper sense of calm and peace I’ve always connected with running. Happiness? Check. Well-Being? Check. Creatively working past challenges, seeking new perspectives, coming up with new options? You betcha.