Last night, at around 8:35 p.m., it happened. For about a minute...maybe two...I may have felt the "runner's high" that people are always on about. I was nearing the end of my Week 5 Day 3 run--20 minutes running, no walking. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal to you. But trust me, if you knew me like I know me, you'd know this was a very big deal indeed. I haven't run two feet, much less 20 minutes, in nearly 20 years. And though I had been training for this run for the past five weeks, I wasn't entirely convinced that all those intervals--first running 60 seconds, then 90 seconds, then three minutes, then five and then eventually eight, punctuated by walking--were now going to keep my legs pumping for TWENTY WHOLE MINUTES. I was a little scared, but a lot excited. If I could do this--just run...slowly...jog, really...for 20 stinkin' minutes--it would represent a major landmark in my effort to get fit, strong and healthy before my 40th birthday.
I've said before that I think that distance running is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. I still think this is true. My body was not as challenged last night as my mind was. The worst moments were at the beginning and the middle of the run. When the bell on my C25K iPhone app rang and the robotic voice first intoned "Run," I had a moment of panic. I run the same route through my neighborhood most days and I knew how far I was from the finish line. The prospect of making my way several blocks, around corners, past the Methodist Church and near the fire house, over by the sprawling house with the big, cream-colored Labrador and around to my house again, seemed daunting. So, I tried to keep my pace slow and steady and I gave myself little goals.
"Just make it to that Japanese maple..."
"The corner--get to the corner of Herriman..."
"Look, the spot where you turn around is coming up!"
I sank into the 70s soft rock playlist softly humming in my earbuds (Ventura Highway...in the sunshine...) and I just slogged forward.
I might have caught a "high" earlier in the run, but just when it seemed like my legs were getting lighter, my strides a little longer and automatic, and my mind was loosening its grip on the Is it the end yet? mantra, there came that robotic voice again. You are halfway done. What must have been designed to buck up flagging runners had the opposite effect on me.
"Christ! I can't run another 10 minutes!"
My jog slowed to a shuffle. I told myself, "Think how good it will feel to say that you finished this run. If you do this--run for 20 minutes straight--you can call yourself a runner."
Fifteen minutes in and the muscles around my knees were starting to protest. My side grew a little stitchy. Sweat dripped in my eyes and my twists kept falling across my face. (Damn it! Why hadn't I bothered to tie my hair back?)
"Just five more minutes..."
Then I saw her. Running towards me in blue shorts and a tank top, brown ponytail flying--a young woman, maybe half my age. Her back was erect, her stride was strong and effortless. I felt a little rush of air as she blew past me at the corner. I want to be like that. I can be like that...someday...but only if I keep going.
That was when I felt it--the "high." Those last few minutes, nothing ached and I wasn't thinking about the end. I was just running and it felt like I could run forever. The lace on my right shoe came loose and I kept going as it flapped. I would tie it later. I just wanted to say that I ran the whole thing. And I did--the whole 20 minutes.
It's weird. Just that mini-triumph last night--no big deal in the scheme of things--made me feel kind of like I could do anything today. I felt so good this morning that I tackled the mountain of stairs out of my work parking garage. I don't know what I was thinking. I charged at those things like 20 minutes of running had turned me into some sort of elite athlete. I realized the folly of my actions around flight four, which I nearly crawled, all winded with a sore thighs and booty. Okay, maybe that wasn't so smart. But surviving 20 minutes of pumping and flailing has made me feel my personal power in a way I hadn't quite expected.
I'm a runner.
Something else I learned this week: Running videos are really inspirational. (You're gonna need tissue to watch these, especially the second one.)