At the beginning of 2011–at 47 years of age–I took up running for two reasons. One: I had a problem controlling my weight (I wasn’t huge, but I wasn’t svelte either) and two: to honour my friend Dave Fitzsimons–a two time Olympian and champion runner–who died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008. In 2010, a 5 kilometre event–Fitzy’s 5–was held in his honour, and I walked it, determined to run it the next year.
When I first started running, I couldn’t run 50 metres to save myself, even though I was an efficient walker. However, by the end of 2011–with my iPhone, a running app and a few start running classes–I could run close to 7 km. Not entirely comfortably, but I was still proud of my achievement. Just as exciting: I dropped weight quite quickly because I was also watching what I was eating.
A few months ago, at age 52, I ran my third official half marathon, shaving 3 minutes off my personal best. I cannot believe the progress I’ve made since those first tentative steps and while this journey hasn’t been without setbacks (and it’s certainly had its challenges), I’ve learned more about myself through running than just about anything life has thrown at me.
What you do after a setback defines you
I have started and restarted running at least twice each year since 2011. It’s not because I give up, it’s because I’ve had injuries (not severe ones, mind you, just niggling stuff) that have required tender loving care. And rest. Injuries need rest. And I travel; some years I’m away for close to two months and–for any number of reasons–sometimes it’s not possible to run while I travel.
Each time I start again, it takes me less time to get my fitness back, which is incredibly gratifying. My body is an amazing machine and it knows what it has to do. What I can push it to do. My body continues to rise above setbacks, does what I need it to do to get back on track so I can just keep running. If you start and keep running, you will be amazed at what you can achieve if you don’t give up. I know I am.
Nothing can help you with you goals like persistence, consistency, discipline–and determination
When I first started running, I felt really silly. You’re not a runner, I’d tell myself, you’re almost 50 for God’s sake–what on earth makes you think you can do this? But I persevered because I had something to prove to myself. And to Dave Fitzsimons.
I made myself run three times a week–Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays because it was do-able. I switched to early mornings because I quickly learned that if I ran in the evening, I was likely to find any excuse not to (hard day at the office, impromptu drinks, too hot, too wet, too dark). So I ran in the morning before work. And I ran outside because I hate gyms and treadmills. I put my tunes on, was bossed around by my running app and I ran. I ran when I was tired, I ran in sweltering heat, in frosts, in rain, after storms when I was worried about trees falling on my head and being swept away by a flooded river. Sometimes I ran when I wasn’t feeling the best. Some runs were better than others. I walked more than I ran at times. But I did it, and it is now a firm habit–a habit I feel very uncomfortable about not observing.
My mantra in those early days was a run was better than no run. And it’s true. Something is always better than nothing.
You’ve got to figure out a way to solve the problems
You would think running–and continuing to run–would be a straightforward activity. You lace on your shoes, you head out the door, and you run. And you keep on running, just like Forrest Gump. Not so for me.
One of my first injuries (more of an annoyance than an injury, really) was blisters. Big ones, in my arches, appearing after about 3 kilometres into a run. It took me nearly two years of band-aiding the symptoms (literally!) to work out it was the inbuilt arch support in my shoes. I switched to a neutral shoe, and have been relatively blister free.
A sharp pain in my knee–that wasn’t fixed with knee support–sent me off to the physio, where I was diagnosed with iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome. That was fixed with rest and stretching, but reappeared after I started trail running. Apparently downhill is no good for runners who are prone to ITB flare-ups. More rest and stretching.
My point is: running–and the desire to keep running–requires you to think about how to solve problems that crop up. And they crop up on a regular basis!
Keeping your eyes on the prize is crucial to achieving anything
My main motivation for running was initially weight loss, then weight control. Then I just wanted to be able to comfortably run 5 kilometres, which I vowed to do after running that first Fitzy’s 5. Then 10 kilometres. After visiting Italy in 2012, I had my eye on the Lake Maggiore Half Marathon, which I’m on track to run in 2016, barring unforeseen circumstances like injury or work demands.
I track all my runs–time, distance, calories burned–via my GPS watch. I celebrate my achievements and the wins, for example, furthest distance and fastest time. I love seeing how far I have come since I started, and it keeps me motivated.
There is no such thing as perfection–just improvement
The best–and worst–thing about running is that you will never master it. You will never be perfect at it. You challenge yourself every time you lace on your shoes. Hell, it took me two years to even like running!
You will have awesome runs when all the planets align and everything goes your way, and you will have awful runs, when your feet feel like blocks of concrete and you just can’t catch your breath. On some runs, that voice in your head will tell you to stop less than 1 kilometre in; on other runs, that voice in your head is cheering you on as you pass the 21 kilometre mark. All you can do is just keep your eye on the prize, know that there will be setbacks and just keep running.
Because in the end, running is its own reward.
And like life, you get out of it exactly what you put into it.
This post originally appeared on The Diane Lee Project.
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