Running Doesn't Suck, I Swear

by Elizabeth Broadbent

I was running 2 miles at a time when I pulled my quad. I didn’t realize I’d pulled it, and so I made it worse by deciding to do some planks. After that, I’d pretty much ruined my upper left leg for the next few weeks. I spent the time terrified. I worried my leg wouldn’t get better, and I wouldn’t be able to run. I had to run. I needed to run. I worried I was losing all the gains I’d made, including all the weight I’d lost.

If you had told me three months before that I’d feel this way, I’d have laughed at you. I hated running. Running was something that obsessive people did, something that made you breathe hard (and I hate to breathe hard). You got all sticky and sweaty and gross. High school students ran. College students ran. People with perfect bodies ran. But I did not run.

That changed when Prozac made me gain, well, a lot of weight. When we finally pinpointed the cause (not my thyroid, not another medication) and got me off the drug, I was left with a good deal of weight to lose and no decent way to do it other than diet. I needed something else. Something exercise-y. And I’d heard about this Couch to 5K thing.

A Couch to 5K program assumes you’re starting from a base of not running at all, and probably not walking much, either. It’s basically interval training for most of it: The first week, you walk for a minute and a half, you run (jog) for a minute, and repeat. I looked it over, figured it sounded reasonable, and decided to start. I found a friendly app to talk to me and tell me when to run and when to walk. It helped that they emphasized I’d be jogging, not running, and that I wouldn’t be breathing really hard. Because I really hate breathing hard.

I ran slow. I didn’t realize how slowly until later when I stopped walking in parts of my workout and ran the whole time. Oh, how slowly did I jog. I had to cart my three kids under 7 to the local park/track to run. I used a behemoth of a double stroller — not one of those nice BOBs — and made my oldest ride his bike with me. Everyone passed me: old ladies, bouncing college girls. When I’d see the big guys sweating over a workout, running slow, I’d smile and nod. We are of the same tribe, you and I. My younger two kept wanting out of the stroller. My oldest complained he was tired. By the time we’d finished, we’d gone less than a mile.

But slowly, slowly, I worked my way up. I bought some running gear and better shoes, which stopped my hideous calf pain. Soon I was running for five minutes at a time. I started bringing my German Shepherd along on runs. He began to go ballistic when he saw me in running gear. My kids couldn’t keep up with me anymore, and I had to wait for my husband to get home from work, then run in the dark. He got me a bracelet that pumped mace, and I always took my (very large, very scary-looking) German Shepherd with me. I was terrified when I went up to running for 25 minutes at a time. I didn’t believe I could do it — but I did. Then I ran for 28 minutes at once.

Finally I threw out the program, with one week left to go. I needed to work on my speed. I was still running/jogging at a geriatric pace. So instead of running for 30 minutes at a time, I changed to running for distance: two miles. The first time I broke 14 minutes a mile I felt like I had broken the ticker tape on a race. The last time I ran, I hit 13:23 minutes a mile. That’s still incredibly slow. But it’s better than the 15- or 16-minute miles I was sweating through three weeks beforehand. And it’s a hell of a lot better than not doing it at all.

I had become addicted. I cruised running wear. I fantasized about new track jackets and had my next pair of shoes all picked out. When I hurt my leg, it was the first time I’d gone more than two days without running for three months. I felt a void. My dog became unmanageable. I missed doing what I loved. What freed me from my thoughts, and the daily rigors of being a mom, writer, teacher. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, I breathe hard sometimes. But I’ve learned to really love it.

Two miles doesn’t sound like much. But it was enough for me to lose about 15 to 20 pounds, along with clean eating. When I start running again, I’ll have to back up: back to 25 minutes at a time, and slow. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could sprint for short distances without wanting to die, or jog for more than a few minutes without needing a break. And I couldn’t, at first, but I learned to by sticking with it. I trained my body. I still envy those bouncing college girls for whom it’s so easy. I’m 35 and carrying extra weight. This will never be easy for me, not for a long time. But it worked. I did it, and I’m going to keep doing it.

And if I can do it, so can you. I promise you that.