I have never been good at running. I have never liked running. And yet, I’ve always been curious as to what other people find so great about it. And so, every now and again, I try to get into running. Usually that means I go for a one or two-mile jog a few times before concluding that running is dull and exhausting, and these other people are insane.
My boyfriend, Paul, who is one of the insane ones (he ran a half-marathon this past spring), asked me what I don’t like about running.
“I get tired. It hurts my lungs. It’s boring.” Then I gave the excuse of having had two lung surgeries, which tends to shut people up. The thing is, my lungs are perfectly fine now, and I hated running way before I ever had the surgeries.
Recently I read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall (see other blog post here), which did a really good job of convincing me that, despite its protests, my body is actually built for long distance running. After reading Born to Run, I thought maybe I should give running another try.
Deep down, though, I figured my attempt would be the same as all the others: short-lived and lame, but now, five and a half weeks later, I’m still going for regular runs and increasing my stamina. Why am I doing so much better this time? I think it’s probably because I have a partner.
When I told Paul I might try running again, he got excited. “Let’s train for a half-marathon together!” he said.
“No. There’s no way I’m doing that.” I told him maybe I’d train for a 5K, but that was it.
“Just go running with me twice a week, and we’ll see how you feel about it after a while,” Paul suggested.
So we started going running at Green Lake Park. The loop around the lake is 2.9 miles, so on our first run, Paul suggested I try to make it all the way around. “I’ll run with you. It’ll be fun,” he said. I was doubtful that I could make it all the way around, and especially doubtful it would be fun, but I strapped my ipod around my arm and started jogging.
“Whoa,” he said, “you’re running really fast.”
“No wonder you get tired,” Paul said. “Take it slow this time. And if you start to feel tired, just slow down even more.”
It was good advice for anyone starting on something new — take it slow. When my lungs started to burn and my legs started to ache, I slowed my pace but kept going. I made it past the two mile mark before I said I might stop and walk.
“No,” he said. “You can do this. Just go slow.”
If I’d been running alone, I would have given up at this point, but since Paul was there, trotting along at my side, I kept going. He didn’t say anything else, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I pushed on. And, to my amazement, I ran all the way back to where we had started.
And since that day, the 2.9 mile loop has gotten easier and easier.
No. That isn’t actually true. Every run has been better than that first time, but it hasn’t been a steady increase in ease. Some days I feel sluggish and have to really push to get myself to go all the way around, while other days it doesn’t seem that bad.
On Friday, Paul and I went for a run after work. It was a beautiful fall day. Orange and red leaves floated down onto the path from the trees above, and the blue-gray lake rippled as crew teams slid across it in their skinny boats.
We took off running, the clouds turning pink and yellow from the setting sun.
“You’re going fast today,” Paul commented.
“Yeah, I feel like I have a lot of energy,” I said. I turned on my ipod.
We were halfway around, when a terrible thing happened: my ipod ran out of batteries.
“Oh no! What am I going to do?” Normally I listen to This American Life to distract me from the pain and boredom of running. And normally I sit on the dock and finish listening to the podcast while Paul takes his second lap around the lake.
“What are you going to do while I’m doing my second lap?” Paul asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t bring a book.”
“You could just run the second lap with me,” he suggested.
“Oh no.” That sounded ludicrous to me. I couldn’t go from running three miles to nearly six. And yet, I was feeling oddly energetic. I said I’d run part of a second lap with him and then walk back to the car and wait for him to be done.
We continued to run. Now the trees on either side of the path had yellow leaves, reminding me of the fairy tale in which the twelve princesses walk through a grove of golden trees to get to the palace where they dance all night with twelve handsome princes.
We started on our second lap. “I’ll do a half mile then turn around,” I decided.
“See how far you can go,” Paul told me.
When I got to a half mile, I still felt strong, so I kept running.
“When I get home I’m probably just going to poop out,” I warned Paul. Since my ipod wasn’t working, we were talking now, and I was surprising myself at the fact that I could run and carry on a conversation without feeling too winded.
When we were halfway around, I figured I might as well keep going — no sense turning back now.
“How do you feel?” Paul asked.
“I feel good. I don’t understand it.” I tried to figure out why I was doing such a good job running today. Was it something I ate – the trail mix maybe? Was it because I hadn’t gone on a walk that morning, like I usually do? Maybe today was just a good day for me — there was some magic in the crisp air.
“You’re getting stronger,” Paul said.
“It’s amazing,” I told him. We were entering the grove of golden trees again, and I thought of the princesses who danced their shoes to pieces. “I’m an amazing person.” I felt good, and I wondered if I was experiencing a runner’s high for the first time in my life.
By now it was dusk, and the park had cleared out as a blue dimness began to settle over the lake, deepening the shadows and bringing in the cold. We finished our second lap and walked to the car. My thighs felt like tree trunks: strong and heavy. I couldn’t believe that I had just run six miles, and I didn’t even feel that tired. For the very first time in my life, I could honestly say that running had been fun, and I looked forward to doing it again.
On the drive home I thought about how I never would have run so far if it wasn’t for Paul. By simply running next to me all these weeks, he had been silently motivating me to keep going, helping me build stamina and strength. And today, if he hadn’t suggested and encouraged me to do the second lap, I never would have done it. I would have assumed I didn’t have it in me.
But I did have it in me. The ability to run six miles had come from my own body, my own mind. But I had needed someone to to help me find my strength and use it. In a way, Paul didn’t do much — he just ran next to me. But sometimes, having someone by your side makes all the difference.
Thanks, Paul, for being my running partner.