We recently received this letter from a Modesto Marathon 5K participant. It was such a touching story that we had to share it with you.
“You RUN? Why would you want to do that??” “You should take up something that’s not so hard on you, like biking.” “You know, roller blading is way easier on your knees and back.”
These are all statements that friends (friends, mind you…not strangers) have made to me when they found out I’m a runner.
Let me say that again; I’m a runner.
First of all, it took me a long time to allow myself to call myself a runner. A runner was something I always wanted to be, but I never thought I was good enough to claim the title. I ran everywhere I went as a kid, but that was just being a kid. After reaching adulthood, I gave up the dream of running to follow more “normal” paths. Wife, mother, grandmother, working woman, friend…all noble things, and all of which I am proud and happy to be, and none of which I regret being for an instant.
I had friends in high school that went on to run with state and college teams. I was in awe of them. But I put away my dreams of being a runner and moved forward with the life I had chosen, and it’s been a good life. I’m surrounded by a loving family, and I will always consider that to be the most important thing in my life. I earn a decent living and I have a decent home. But a funny thing happened on my way to middle age; I got a little heavy. No, let’s be honest…I got fat. And then I got unhappy with who I was and what I was becoming. And that, surprisingly, led me down the path of fulfilling my dream.
After about 10 years of waiting for the weight loss fairy to appear and magically make me young and thin again, I figured out she wasn’t coming. Since it had become an effort for me to even climb the stairs to my office at work, I finally decided to do something about my situation. And, really, we truly are the only ones responsible for whom and what we are. So the first thing I did was join a weight loss organization. Over the next 14 months I lost nearly 80 pounds. And like any good weight loss organization, they not only taught me about proper nutrition and portion size, the encouraged activity. Any sort of activity, just so I actually got up a few minutes a day and engaged in something purposeful.
Since I had this really nice cloths rack that doubles as a treadmill, I figured I could clean it off and spend a few minutes a day walking on it. I started with 10 minutes a day, and I must admit that I did NOT do it everyday. But every few days I would think, “Gee, I really should get on that tread mill again…”, and over the next several months I worked up from a 10 minute walk to a 45 minute jog…a really BORING 45 minute jog. I hated it.
But, I remembered loving to run when I was a kid. I remembered how it made me feel…alive, strong, powerful, confident, independent, free. Was it possible to ever feel that again? It had been at least 35 years since I had run like that. But a crazy idea formed itself in my head. I didn’t put a time frame or deadline to it, but I decided to set a goal for myself to run in a 5k. Not knowing how to even begin working toward that goal, and not realizing I had already begun working toward it when I spent my first 10 minutes walking on the treadmill, I went online and Googled running clubs for my area, found Shadowchase, and sent in my application and registration fee.
So, one day shortly after that, I dug out my old spandex shorts from years prior, back when I was thin and thought I wanted to work out in a gym, (ho hum…boring…), and since I was still in the process of shedding those extra pounds, a very loose fitting shirt to wear over them. After a few minutes of almost standing on my head, I also found some old running shoes in the back of the closet, (purchased to make a fashion statement, not to actually run in…), and I put everything in a back pack to take with me to work the next day. My plan was to stop at the park and to see how far I could get on the 5k course the club had marked out on the running path.
To my astonishment, I ran the entire 5k without stopping. Granted, a lot of folks could have walked it faster than I ran it, but that had very little impact on how surprised and proud I was. And, miracle of miracles, I wasn’t bored for a single one of the 45 minutes it took me to do it! About twice a week, every week, for the next 6 months, I would either go to the park or run 3 miles through my neighborhood. Then, nearly a year after the idea first entered my head, I found myself at the starting line for my very first 5k; Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5k.
The horn sounded, the runners took off, (all 900 or so of us!), and I was actually racing. It was an amazing feeling! The air was crisp and clear, the streets were wet from the rains we had the night before, and running through the streets of the city with so many others for the very first time is an experience I’ll never forget. I could hear each foot fall, each breath. I watched the line of runner extend further and further into the distance in front of me, and yet I passed many runners too. An old man. A small child. A teenager who wasn’t as all powerful as he thought he was when he started out. I was one of many taking part in a wonderful experience that was both group activity and independent effort; trying to be the best while hoping the same for everyone else.
Then, in what seemed like forever and yet no time at all, I was coming around the final turn heading for the finish line. Everyone was trying to give it their all as they sprinted to the finish. People I had been pacing myself with suddenly ran away from me like I was standing still. I ran as hard as I could, sucking air and feeling like the earth’s atmosphere did not hold enough oxygen to fuel my screaming lungs. And then I was across the finish; 33 minutes and 41 seconds; my fastest time at that point in my running.
My goal for that first race was just to not finish last. I did more than not finish last; I finished 7th out of 36 women for my age group, 148th out of 620 females, and 342nd out of 990 finishers, both male and female. And that’s not counting the 160 entrants that didn’t finish. Considering where I started from a year before, I didn’t think that was bad at all. I’ve now run 6 races so far this year, and I’ve finished in the medals in 3 of those races.
And why do I want to do this? I love to run. I’ve come to believe THAT, if nothing else, makes you a runner; the simple of love of running. I think about running all day. I dream about running when I sleep. I read about form and nutrition and training methods. I talk about running to anyone who will listen. I believe that runners will run through pain, will run in the rain or the heat or the cold, will run when the rest of the household is sleeping, simply because they love to run. For me at least, it’s not about achieving the runner’s high. I’m not even sure you can get a runner’s high in 3.1 miles. For me, it’s about the feeling I get with the very first stride. Alive. Strong. Powerful. Confident. Independent. Free.
I was a running club member for over a year before I started becoming active with the group, so not many people in the club know who I am and whether I’m with the walkers or the runners. At a club BBQ last night, several people asked me if I was a walker or a runner.
I am a runner.
- Julie A. Stanley