Every day, I look forward to many things. I look forward to my two (or three) cups of coffee. I look forward to reading my Twitter feed while watching the morning news. But most of all, I look forward to my daily run. I run when it’s cold, hot, windy, raining, snowing, or humid. I often run alone, but I do on occasion run with friends (particularly when it’s a long run or one of us needs the encouragement). Running is part of my daily routine. I have met many incredible people and discovered so much about myself because of it. I am hooked on the progress I continue to make. I love the “runner’s high” and the improvement in my overall health. But you see – I wasn’t always a runner. I wasn’t even much of an athlete. Many of my high school and college friends are shocked to see I’m competing in 10ks (6.2 miles), half marathons (13.1 miles), and full marathons (26.2 miles). They remember me as the frail little girl who didn’t like to break a sweat! Now, in my mid 30s, I’m following in the footsteps of elite athletes and running with thousands of others who might have similar stories.
When I was 11 or 12 years old, I was diagnosed with anemia (specifically thalassemia). I was riddled with fatigue, fainting spells, and severe nose bleeds that required half a roll of paper towels. The doctor instructed me to take iron supplements, which helped a little. Because of my lack of energy, I was not a superstar on the playground, so barely passed the minimum physical education requirements needed to graduate from junior high, high school and college. During my 20s, I ate and drank anything I wanted while managing to keep a trim figure. But just because I was trim did not mean I was healthy! However, having been raised in Southern California, it didn’t matter how you achieved a svelte figure. The constant sunshine and warm temperatures should have motivated me to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, they did not. It wasn’t until after I moved to the colder climes of Chicago when I fell in love with running.
I moved to Chicago in 2001, just weeks before September 11. I created an amazing network, ate lots of good food, and landed a great job at a reputable professional services firm. I also gained about five pounds. OK, maybe it was closer to 10. I joined the gym in 2003 and decided to train myself to run continuously for 30 minutes on the treadmill. I was training virtually with my friend who lives in Houston with her husband (and now two beautiful daughters). We would motivate each other through emails, phone calls, and text messages. All of a sudden, my health improved. I felt stronger! However, I didn’t continue the running past 30 minutes, which translated to roughly three miles. Coincidentally in 2004, I met and dated someone who was (and still is) an outstanding runner. I’ve eaten many pasta dinners with him so he could carbo-load for runs that were 14-22 miles. I watched him cross the finish line at a 5k race, placing third overall and first in his age group. I cried tears of joy when I cheered him on to a strong finish at the 2004 Chicago Marathon in a blazing fast time of 2:38:01 (his personal record at the time). That means he ran a six-minute mile for 26.2 miles. He was awe-inspiring to watch. He would share with me the play-by-play of how each race went for him. I knew so much about running but didn’t put much of it to use. Although, I did run/walk the Shamrock Shuffle 8k (4.96 miles) earlier that year. I was so discouraged by my embarrassingly slow finish time (yes, race results are publicly displayed), I gave up on continuing the training. Then one day, my boyfriend said to me “Why don’t you give running another try? You never know; you might be good at it. You might have a gift.” Those were the words of encouragement I needed to hear.
In 2005, I stocked up on a few pairs of inexpensive running shorts, sports bras, and sweat-wicking shirts. I got fitted for shoes at Fleet Feet Sports. I followed a training program from a beginning running book and sought advice from my boyfriend. I ran two-three miles three or four days a week at a 10- or 11-minute per mile pace along the lakefront. I wore a sports watch and measured the distance using the mile markers. I really enjoyed getting out there. By 2007, my relationship with the running boyfriend had long ended, but my love for running grew. The sport felt so different from my previous attempt just two years ago. I learned to be patient, consistent, and disciplined. My progress was even more incredible. I increased my running to 15-16 miles a week and I registered for the 2007 Chicago Marathon! My longest run was eight miles, so tackling 26.2 was very intimidating, but exciting.
Since finishing my first half marathon (also in 2007) and full marathon, I have completed 20 other races ranging in varied distances. I have become stronger and faster, and I look 10 years younger! I am now known as an endurance athlete. I befriended several runners and learned many tips because of the CARA Marathon Training program. I have met amazing people online and in real life on Twitter and Dailymile. Some of these friends are single with no children (such as myself), but many have spouses, children, pets, a busier life. I have seen these athletes transform from couch potato/mother post baby/smoker to people completing triathlons, 5ks, marathons and achieving a healthier lifestyle (as well as a flat belly).
Just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined ever calling myself an athlete or marathoner. Running didn’t come naturally to me, but with determination, a knowledgeable network of supporters, goals to achieve, and some fun running apparel (I often say my running clothes is cuter than my street clothes), I am thankful. I am thankful to have a healthy body and enjoy challenging it. I look forward to breaking in a new pair of shoes, enjoying the scenery along the lakefront, and finally posting my workouts on Dailymile. I hope my posts will inspire you to start a walking, run/walk, or running program. I will write about my training to race half marathons, 10-milers, the San Francisco Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon. I will incorporate anecdotes from my friend/running coach, several fellow runners in my real life, Twitter and Dailymile families. I hope to express what a difference running has made in my life and perhaps motivate you to find a healthy activity that may change yours. Until then, I’m looking forward to the next time I get to run a few miles.