Hmmm, me an everyday champion. I don’t think so. Champion is one word, I’ve never used to describe myself. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and birder perhaps, but never champion. Yet here I am, at my daughter’s request, writing about a personal, life changing experience that involves running. Yes running.
I like being active. Fitness was always part of my life. At least it was for many years. Growing up with an active father, who coached high school soccer and gymnastics, played tennis and badminton, ran, biked and walked miles, it was hard not to escape his passion.
I competed in gymnastics (never an Olympic contender). I swam (not well, but well enough to keep me from drowning); played squash on a competitive, intra mural team (reasonably well); sailed (badly); hiked; biked; skied; did high impact aerobics at least four times a week (gosh I’m so old I remember the Jane Fonda “feel it burn” mantra!). Please note that I never mentioned running.
And then for some reason, I just stopped being active. Ten years passed. At first, the changes to my physical and mental well-being were not noticeable. I gently ignored those quiet whispers that indicated my body was breaking down –increase in weight, an inability to hike up a hill without becoming short of breath, and a diminishing desire to engage in any physical activity.
One day it dawned on me that I had totally fallen off the keep-fit wagon, so I took up yoga and decided to join a local gym. For a few years, I was one of the gym’s favourite members – no maintenance required because I never went. I just paid my membership and pretended that was enough. My lethargy (and deceit) knew no bounds.
Then about two years ago, with an “awful” birthday approaching, I knew I had to do something or I was going to be in trouble. I told myself, “enough is enough”, I am going to be strong and fit again. I want to be able to climb mountains (okay, hills) and not be winded.
Because I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, I hired a personal trainer. Little did I know that this considered and necessary decision would lead me to my “life-changing” experience.
Despite my reluctance to do burpees, planks, lunges, jumping jacks, push ups and endless abdominals, I started to feel better. My endurance improved.
About a year into my training, which by the way I loved, my PT asked me if I wanted to enter a 10K run which was about four months away. I looked at her like she had two heads and announced, “this body does not run”. To her credit, Denise didn’t give up on me. Two days later we started my training regime for THE BIG RACE (as I affectionately called it).
I learned all about dynamic warm-ups, interval training, proper breathing techniques and more. I got a super new pair of running shoes that I was sure would magically transport me across the finish line. And most importantly, I started to tell people I was training for my first run! These public confessions made it real and held me accountable to my goal to run THE BIG RACE.
The support and encouragement I received from Denise, my daughter, Morgan, my hubby (who broke his wrist while keeping me company on one of my training runs), my family and friends propelled me toward this goal. They believed I could do it. I didn’t.
I remember my first dismal attempt to run 1K when I barely made it past two minutes without begging to stop. Morgan devised a technique I continue to use – “run to the next telephone pole, run to the next tree, run to the next bush.” She continued to remind me that the first two minutes of any run were the hardest. I countered with “every minute is hard.”
Somehow we laughed and trained our way to THE BIG RACE. About a month into my training, I injured myself and we had to downgrade the run to 5K, which was just fine with me!
On Sunday October 16, 2011, I stood with hundreds of other runners waiting for the race to start. I wasn’t on the side lines watching. This time I was doing it. I was about to accomplish my goal to run 5K before my 60th birthday. Morgan and Denise stood by my side, ready to run with me. Richard, my husband waited at the finish line, ready to cheer me on. There was no turning back.
The starter bell rang. I started to run and I continued to run with my two guardian angels who made sure I was going to finish. They encouraged me, cajoled me, and told me not to give up. I encouraged and cajoled them to leave me alone but they didn’t. (Likely they were afraid, I’d take the next left turn to the nearest café! Ha.)
Crossing the finish line was strange, but what happened 30 metres from the finish line was even stranger. For one horrible moment, I felt like giving up. A creepy, negative voice told me to stop. I was hurting. So much for the runner’s high they talk about. I was experiencing the runner’s low. But then I looked at that Congratulations banner stretching across the road. I thought about the time and effort Morgan and Denise had invested in me. I thought about Richard waiting for me. I thought about how far I had come and all that training. Who knew you could do so much thinking, when pooped? So I pushed on and crossed the line.
Did this change my life? I think it did. I learned that you can teach an old dog new tricks, if the old dog is willing. I learned that the impact of ten years of lethargy can’t be reversed easily but it can be reversed. I can walk up that hill without being winded. I can do a one-hour Zumba class without collapsing into an embarrassing heap on the floor. I no longer tire easily. I am stronger mentally and physically.
And on Sunday, October 14, 2012, I will cross the finish line again.
As you may have already deduced, this story was written by my mother (the one leading the pack in the photo on the right). Being a part of my mom’s running journey is an experience I will always remember. Crossing the finish line with her is something I will always remember.
As my mom said, running was never a part of her exercise regime. She and I would walk together, maybe attend the odd yoga class together where she would promptly kick my butt. I realize Yoga isn’t really a butt-kicking type of activity, but seriously, the poses and stretches she could do were the butt-kicking type. I could barely stand with both feet on the ground and remain balanced. And once in a while, if I was lucky, she would come to a gym class with me. Things are quite different now.
She can now hold a plank for a minute – when she started out with her trainer 10 seconds was a challenge. She is now a certified lover of Zumba – a highly intense aerobic activity. She now uses 15 lbs weights during her training sessions (I had to increase mine just to catch up). She can now run a 5 KM race – an experience I never imagined sharing with my mother.
Running with my mom is indescribable. Every time we hit the tarmac, a repetitive thought enters my head, “I’m running with my momma – so cool. I’m running with my momma – so cool. I’m running with my momma – so cool.” Okay so other thoughts creep in once and a while, but seriously, running with my momma is so cool.
The emotion I felt crossing the finish line with my mom was overwhelming. As we approached the finish line, I had to fight the tears. Apparently my tear-fighting skills are about as strong as my ability to hold a yoga pose, nil. I cried as we crossed the finish line. My tears (of joy, to be clear) were born out of sincere pride and respect for the journey my mom had decided to embark on. And the journey she embarked on is not an easy one. It is one that many give up on. But she didn’t. In fact, she is running again. That’s right, my momma is no one time wonder.
I hope my mom’s journey can inspire other women (and men) who feel similarly to how my mom felt about running (recall, “this body does not run”) – that anything is possible (I know, super cheese, but super true). The training will be hard, it will be painful at times, and you may want to give up. But, in the end it’s worth the sweat, swollen joints, and torn muscles.
Thank you, mom, for sharing your story with us. You are truly an everyday champion.