How a Couch Potato Runs 10K

img_5538I’ve never been a natural runner. There are home videos of me round-faced and waddling with my arms a-flapping while other kids flew by me with all the grace of gazelles prancing past a hippo*. Tag was not enjoyable. Track and field was a farce. I was more of a fort-building, book-reading, cloud-watching, doodling kind of kid. Running and I didn’t get along.

* I realize hippos can run 30 kilometres an hour on land. So let’s assume I’m talking about an unmotivated, recently-fed hippo wading through the mud … wearing a weighted backpack. 

How I got sucked into a 10K

Fast forward to January of this year. Ah, January. So full of possibility. A good friend of mine got swept up in the spirit of the New Year and decided she wanted to run a 10K … but she didn’t want to run it alone. That’s where I come in!

Back in January, I still didn’t love running, but I figured four months was plenty of time to magically become a Super Athlete.

Well, surprise! It didn’t happen. The snow and cold were fine excuses for staying indoors for most of January and February (and most of March). By the time I dusted off my running shoes and dragged my butt around the block (all two kilometres of it) for the first time, I was about six weeks away from race day. Time to buckle down and actually train unless I want my friends to drag my unconscious body across the finish line … or worse, I could end up sitting in the gutters of Yonge Street nowhere near the finish line while Granny speeds by with her walker. No thank you.

The rude awakening

So I started running. It was not a magical experience. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where every muscle in my body is on fire from exertion, but I still move in slow motion.

I ran, but my breathing was all wrong. I’d get a stitch in my side. Wisps of hair kept pulling free from my ponytail and tickling the side of my face. Sunscreen (Safety first, people. Melanoma kills.) mixed with sweat and stung my eyes. About 10 minutes in, my nose would start running, so I’d start sniffling, which further threw off my breathing and intensified said stitch in my side. It was altogether the most unattractive sight (Sorry, neighbours!), but I ran.

The turning point [cue swell of inspirational music]

Slowly — very, very slowly — it got easier. I got the breathing thing down. It never got easy, (There were days — once, a whole week — when I dreaded the thought of even a 15-minute run.) but it did get easier. I went from nearly eight huffing, puffing minutes per kilometre to just under six minutes per kilometre.

Ten days before race day I decided I needed some concrete reassurance that I’d actually make it to the finish line. Every training schedule I found on Pinterest told me I didn’t have to actually run the full distance prior to the race, but I had the pre-race butterflies. I needed to do this at least once before the real thing.

So I plodded along on my usual route, up and down row upon row of houses. Approaching kilometre 5, I was feeling pretty good. The halfway point! Kilometre 6 — no turning back! By the time kilometres 7 and 8 rolled around, I was feeling the burn … physically and mentally.

My mind started buzzing with lovely thoughts along the lines of Why did I agree to do this? I think I’m starting to get a blister. I can’t feel my legs — no wait, I can. They’re the things causing me pain. How much farther? Yep, that’s definitely a blister. How much farther? I can’t believe I’m paying money for this torture. How much farther? How much farther? HOW. MUCH. FARTHER?

Kilometre 9 is a beautiful thing. I love kilometre 9. The end is in sight, and there’s nowhere for my jelly legs to go but forward into the welcoming arms of the 10K mark.

I kid you not, when I reached kilometre 10 (outside a nondescript house in the suburbs), I did so with arms pumping overhead like I’d finished first in a full marathon. The two women gabbing on their porch must’ve thought I was crazy … or suffering from heat stroke. It was a silent, sweaty, victorious dance party of one. I clocked in at about an hour and five minutes.

“Just believe!” … but seriously

That 10K — the first 10K of my life — was huge for me. Sure, there were no witnesses (save the two chatty porch ladies), and it was in some middle-of-nowhere chunk of Richmond Hill suburbia, but it gave me a huge boost of confidence I didn’t know I needed.

Turns out those cheesy “You can do anything if you just believe!” kids shows knew what they were talking about.** Up until that first 10K, there was always a part of me that didn’t think I’d make it to the finish line on race day.

My friend said it best — the same friend who hooked me into this race. You learn a lot about yourself during a 10K. I don’t run with earphones, partly to keep an ear out for oncoming cars. After an hour of letting my thoughts roam freely, I did learn something about myself.

I learned I have more will power than I thought. but it’s all worth diddly squat without a concrete goal. Basically, I would’ve have been able to run 10K (or even 5K) if I didn’t sign up for a 10K race.

** I’d like to clarify that “You can do anything if you just believe!” does not apply to flying Dumbo-style. I wish someone had told me that when I was four and leaping off the front steps holding a seagull feather. That’s a good five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

The moment of truth

Thousands of runners were all waiting for the race to begin. I felt a little like a racehorse chomping at the bit.
Thousands of runners were all waiting for the race to begin. I felt a little like a racehorse chomping at the bit.

So that’s how I ended up with tens of thousands of runners crowded together on Yonge Street at 8 in the morning … on a Sunday. I was sleep deprived and a little jittery, but I never questioned whether I’d cross that finish line.

I’d shaken that voice of doubt 10 days earlier, and that made all the difference. I actually kind of enjoyed that 10K run down Yonge Street to Fort York. It wasn’t easy — especially my old nemeses, kilometres 6 through 8 — but it was kind of (dare I say it) fun!

Surrounded by thousands of other people all striving towards the same goal, you can’t help but get pumped up to run. The air was infused with an energy that was almost electric. I could feel it building in my chest as we counted down to the start of the race. It pulsed through my veins, an electric current carrying me kilometre after kilometre.

img_5531
See all those lovely people cheering us on from the bridge?

As I ran, I ticked off the streets I’d only ever thought of as subway stops. And when the initial adrenaline started to wear thin, I really appreciated those clapping, whooping, hollering sign-wavers who gave up their time to cheer on complete strangers.

A beautiful sight: my first glimpse of the finish line!
A beautiful sight: my first glimpse of the finish line!

I crossed the finish line at 59:40.6. Thank goodness most of Yonge Street is on a downhill.

Encore?

With my first race behind me, I can finally take a step back and just soak it all in. Will I run another 10K? Most likely. It might not be a yearly tradition, but I could take on another.

Some of my more athletic friends have already asked if I’ll be setting my sights on a half or even full marathon next. My reflex response is “Fat chance,” but I’ve since learned I’m capable of surprising even myself. Who knows? Maybe I’ll tackle a half marathon one day. As for a full marathon? I’m still going with “Fat chance.”

So do I consider myself a runner? I’d hesitate to say “yes” even now. I don’t think a love of running will ever come naturally to me, but I’m starting to see the joys of it.

I’ve come to love the clean, crisp smell of running in the morning, of sleepy fog melting under soft sunlight. I love seeing the city wake up — all backpacks and briefcases, send-off kisses and wagging tails. I love the birds that sing from the rooftops, welcoming the arrival of another day. Most of all I’ve grown to love the steady rhythm of rubber soles on pavement, echoing the beat of my heart. I can. I can. I can.

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