Would you consider yourself a passionate runner and just reading this question makes you want to lace up your running shoes? Or do you run every once in a little while, but only when time and energy permits (which happens in very rare cases, as we all know)? Have you thought about starting to run, but unfortunately lack the proper running gear? Or do you hate sports all together?
My somewhat lazy past
Believe it or not, but I have been a paying member of all these clubs. Back when I was in school, I hated sports. I used to be the first who either forgot her sportswear (oops, how could that have happened), pretended she had her period (worked especially well with male teachers) or tried everything possible not to have to do a certain exercise (“I wonder if it isn’t too hot/cold/windy/ … for that today”).
Physical exercise was not the most natural way for me to spend my worthwhile time. I might have joined a gym during my early teenage years. Though I question that working out really was the true motivator. I even joined, for some strange reason I cannot quite recall, a local table tennis club. Thanks to that I had my first kiss and do quite well whenever table tennis is on the agenda nowadays (let’s be fair and call it ping-pong).
Sports probably ranked at number 75 on my list of priorities in life and if you feel the same way, do not beat yourself up, I am sure you have a ton of other fun things to enjoy your time with. As I did for many years in my life.
A sudden change in perspective
Things changed out of the blue, when literally I woke up one morning during Christmas of 2012, knowing that I want to be a runner. Running by that time had become quite a glamorous type of sports. It seemed to be more of a lifestyle choice than simply a way to stay healthy. I admired all those folks in Cologne, who would be jogging along the river Rhine at a fair pace, while simultaneously talking to their running mate as if this was the most natural thing to do. As a result, I wanted to be one of them, looking like a gazelle instead of being close to a heart attack just from chasing after a bus.
I told my husband (boyfriend at the time) that this was my goal for the new year and that I wanted him to be my coach, but all I got was a lifted eyebrow. Okay, I admit it must have sounded a little crazy, given the status of my fitness and my lack of interest in running (which I had verbally expressed over many years). Yet, I was adamant about my plan and – first things first – needed to buy myself the proper gear. By no means could I just go and run with whatever I had in my closet “just to try things out” (as my husband suggested).
I picked up a nice set of affordable running utensils, while my husband, taking his job as my potential coach very seriously, put together a proper training plan. We were set for my first run, both very excited how this would turn out. My husband might have slightly overestimated my ability to run for longer periods at a time, though. After just a few hundred meters down the road (we hadn’t even reached the park we were supposed to run in), I was done running. Completely out of breath and close to fainting, I thought that maybe I should go back to just visiting the gym. We finished my first run walking most of our way through it, both wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
But with my goal in mind and new clothes in my closet, I stayed on it and ran and walked and ran and walked until one day I managed to run for 10min without a break. If you think I am joking, I am not. I was either completely out of shape or not attuned to running after all. Either way, I felt like a champion when I achieved this first little goal, probably weeks after I started out. I reached my second goal of running for 30min without a break after a few months.
I kept running rather infrequently and never succeeded in truly incorporating running into my weekly schedule. It became more of an on-off relationship (or love/hate if you will). However, I did progress and soon was one of the many river-runners who crossed those bridges at a decent pace (decent yet to be defined). I felt happy having accomplished all I had wanted to accomplish and viewed running as one of the many slowly but surely evolving physical activities in my life. This by the way had a tremendous impact on my health and wellbeing. I can no longer imagine going back to a life where working out does not play a somehow important role.
When things get serious
With our relocation to Chicago, the thing about running took on a slightly different spin. I suddenly had a lot more time available to spend on my workouts and a treadmill just two floors above my head. I would be doomed had I not taken advantage of that opportunity. Running soon became a daily routine and almost automatically called for something to aim for. So, I signed up for my first 5k race, the Mardi Gras Chaser, which I wanted to complete in under 30min. While I trained in many ways, I never actually managed to run this distance and pace during training. Hence, it was all meant to be a surprise once race day came up. I finished the 5k race in 28min – Yay – and for the first time in my life I crossed a finish line and received a medal.
The race did not feel too strenuous and generated appetite for more. With the number of races held in Chicago, it was not difficult to find a 10k race just few weeks later, Chicago’s Chitown 10k & Half Marathon. But here is the thing about running: only because you can run 5k in under 30min, does not necessarily mean that you can run 10k in under 1 hour or 20k in under 2 and 40k in under 4. The longer the run, the more difficult it gets to maintain a static pace. But first and foremost, it gets harder to properly control your mind.
With all the running I have done so far, I feel that the biggest challenge of making it to our personal finish line is our mental ability to pull through. It is not our legs getting sore, or our lungs craving for more oxygen. It is our mind that is spinning, giving us a thousand reasons to quit when things get rough (and they will). Pulling through is hard and something you would ideally not want to do all by yourself.
My first 10k
I asked my husband to be my pacemaker during my 10k, which I wanted to finish in under one hour. Knowing that this goal would not be an easy one, I upped my training a bit but tried not to stress about it. I also did one practice run where I came in at 1:02, which was not too bad and something to work with.
I started my race along with hundreds of other passionate runners of all backgrounds and ages, which is an experience on its own and something I suggest you try if you have not done it yet. The spirit is amazing and you feel so fired up, you almost think you can conquer anything. I was fine until kilometer 7, but then hit a major road block and really had to push myself through kilometer 8 and 9, knowing that if I wanted to make the one-hour mark, the final kilometer had to almost be a sprint. Just that sprinting was not something that seemed possible at this stage.
I had to really bite my teeth, checked my watch almost every other second, tried to keep up with my husband’s pace, wondered if this is how people die of heart attacks, and finally came in – barely breathing – at 1:00:03. I was dead the first few seconds, not even paying attention to the medal that was handed to me, but then quickly realizing what I had accomplished, feeling happy and content. There was even a tiny second where I thought as if something like a tear was trying to make its way through.
Since I also felt a tiny bit sick in my stomach, I could unfortunately not enjoy one of these lovely Portillo’s hot dogs, which are famous in Chicago and were served at 8’o clock in the morning to all finishers. I am sure they were extremely yummy and my husband ate one for me.