It doesn’t matter how much air you have in those Nike’s or what you paid for those Adidas micro-machines, if you’re pounding a concrete pavement, you’re running nowhere fast. I know this because I’ve become quite the non-running expert in my two-year run-up-to-running. If you’d asked me about terrain preferences two years ago, I’d have guessed all ground was created equal. Ask me today and I’ll tell you that your ass can find no fault with asphalt, and a sandy terrain gives you a great workout (with the added bonus that if you run in slow motion like me, your bouncy bits jiggling as you jog feel less Bo Diddley and more Bo Derek).
If you find yourself in a cold chafing sweat over that publicly declared resolution to run this year, my warm-up story should wick your worries away.
Tip: Your legs should do the running, not your mouth.
Before I became an expert in non-running, I walked. Some days I sauntered. Others I strolled. Occasionally, I shook things up with a plod, tread, stride, or shuffle. When my brother asked me to sign up for the NYC marathon lottery I told him I was busy working on my walking, but I signed up anyway because we’d have a good laugh milking upper-body training references the next time we had a Guinness.
Fast forward a few months to lottery-result day: I’m in a new job and my new boss announces his lack of luck in the marathon lottery. I hear my mouth say “I signed up too,” and as he checks my name in the lottery database I know I’m the selfish non-runner who took his golden ticket. I wasn’t even surprised. At 12, I won a pilgrimage to Lourdes to push wheelchairs in the prayer parades; at 16, I won a good size turkey at Bingo; at 20, I won a green card to America. Now, at 30 I had won a ticket to run.
And run I did.
Like a scalded cat.
Panting “time me!” to cheering coworkers expecting intelligent responses to questions of time and pace.
Tip: Always put off ‘till next year what you can’t do this year.
When I say I’m not a singer, I’m being fake-humble. When I say I’m not a runner, I’m being real-honest. I learned quickly that all runners are fake-humble. Don’t fall for the I-haven’t-run-in-years line or the I-don’t-even-break-a-sweat lie: these people mean they haven’t run professionally in years and they move so fast that even their perspiration can’t keep up.
Before I deferred the marathon for the first time I fell for the Hefty Helen, Prosthetic Pete, and Varicose Veronica sob stories. You know how it goes: you confide to a friend that you can’t possibly run for 26 miles and they’ll counter with four overweight, overage, and under-limbed examples of marathon success. So you’re embarrassed into giving it a go.
My exploratory attempts were sad affairs. I kept my head down, aimed away from the buses, and ran. Every time I came upon other runners in front of me, or cars passing me, or dogs looking out their windows, I accelerated. (Then turned at the next available side street/dumpster and collapsed in a heap, purple-lungs in lap.) When I realized that the whole breathing-and-running-at-the-same-time thing would take coordination skills I lacked, I deferred my marathon for a year.
Tip: Talk the talk and run the run.
I’ll spare you a year of frustrated efforts. I deferred for a second time. To make other people feel better about my marathon training I subscribed to Runners World and signed up for a half marathon in June. I felt this sent a clear message to my coworkers, and the world: I take my running career seriously. I don’t want to merely finish the NYC Marathon, I want to win. I bought a fuel belt, highlighted sections of articles that referred to burning out, and I joined two running clubs.
Tip: The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare.
In adjusting to this new hobby I’ve learned three big things: I have a bad attitude, I’m allergic to running, and I run best on paper.
My bad attitude: When I tried to explain to my running coach that as a working mother I couldn’t possibly train twice a week as well as take this class, she worked me into her post-run pep talk. She said if I swapped the word “won’t” for “can’t” at every usage, I’d learn more about myself. While this profound swap feels great (“I won’t come to work today”), I really can’t see any change in my training schedule.
My allergies: So as I committed to attempting the running motion regularly (usually with injured and/or pregnant people), my once clear face became pimpled, my back and arms became one big blotch, and my toenails…eew! My dermatologist solemnly declared that if I wanted clear skin, I’d have to stop this running nonsense. What he was trying to say is that I am in fact allergic to running. It’s no prosthesis, but it’s my running sob story.
My paper run: After much terrain-testing I have come to the conclusion that right now, two years in, I run best on paper. On paper, I am signed up for a marathon-and-a-half this year. I appear to be at the cutting edge of wick, dri-fit, and lycra technology. I own a comprehensive power anthem and underdog movie collection. I have visited nutritionists, dermatologists, and bar tenders in pursuit of understanding. I run twice weekly with a group called Run for Your Life (though I can’t run for the life of me). On solid (sandy) ground, things are not yet Happy Feet.
Is there a moral to my story for you resolution runner—if you dig really deep? It is that you should not—in your haste to the finish line—race past the reality that the words READY and STEADY come before GO!