I was never athletic. Growing up, I participated in my first Field Day at Maple West Elementary School in 4th grade. I remember running the 200-yard dash and feeling like “someone poured a mixture of ammonia and carbon dioxide in my lungs” (my exact wording at the time). Over the next decade, I suffered with undiagnosed asthma that rendered me completely useless when it came to gym class, my one single field hockey practice, and caused a yearly case of bronchitis where I coughed and hacked from October through May. It’s a miracle I was able to sing at all; I was a member of my church choir and school choir, and had several leading roles in high school musicals, and somehow I made it through all of that without ever passing out. In fact, I think the major deterrent for me seriously pursuing voice as my primary instrument had to do with my breathing difficulties. One of the first things I did when I arrived at Hope College was to pay a desperate visit to the college health clinic during an asthma attack, most certainly brought on by a combination of dorm room dirt and anxiety. I received my first nebulizer treatment and two prescription inhalers. Finally, I discovered the freedom of being able to breathe normally, something which most people take for granted!
For the first time, I could exercise at a level that actually increased my overall fitness. I could spend an afternoon or even an overnight at a house with a cat or a dog, both enormous triggers for my asthma. I didn’t worry about hurrying from one end of campus to another in 10-degree weather and needing ten minutes to normalize my breathing upon entering class. I hate taking medication of pretty much any kind, but this is one case where I know I am a healthier person because of it.
Fast forward several years. I dabbled with a bit of, well, let’s call it “jogging” when I was in graduate school, wanting to be one of those cool people who seemingly without any visible effort were able to fly up and down Baltimore’s hilly, treacherous city streets, barely breaking a sweat, free as birds. Me, I choked and huffed and coughed and puffed and flushed and “glistened” while lurching forward at a pace barely faster than walking and gave up shortly thereafter. I usually settled for walking or the elliptical machine if I was at a gym, and whenever I could, I indulged in outdoor hikes. Running wasn’t going to be my thing.
But then I decided to try running a 5K race, figuring that there were three possible outcomes: 1) I could die; 2) I’d have to stop and walk and finish in a little under an hour; or 3) I’d be slow, but I would make it. I didn’t embarrass myself, and I had such a feeling of elation when I was finished–I had run a RACE! Me, the person who couldn’t run a 12-minute-mile, the non-athlete, the couch potato. I had run a race.
I’d like to say that was the beginning of a series of lofty fitness goals, checked off and crossed out one by one. Nope. I ran a couple more 5K races over the next few years, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I started to take running seriously. If it weren’t for Daniel, I never would have signed up for my first half-marathon in September 2013. Both with his encouraging words and his own dedication to running, I was able to meet my goal of finishing the half-marathon without stopping to walk, and I far exceeded my expected finishing time (I finished in 2:20:14).
When I run, I feel strong and invincible, knowing I am doing something I never thought I could do. Several months after that day, which I would probably place on an equal level with my children’s births and degree recitals, I try to conjure up that feeling of elation when I crossed the finish line, as I lace up my sneakers and push the start buttons on the treadmill. I hate treadmills and would easily sink back into my sedentary habits, if it weren’t for the knowledge that this sometimes-not-so-simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is keeping me one step ahead of my own worst enemies: inertia and self-doubt.
So this morning, after MAYBE five hours’ interrupted sleep (thank you, Oscars; thank you, snoring cat underneath the covers; and thank you, too, Eleanor, for the 5:38am wakeup call), despite every bone and muscle and sinew and tendon in my body crying out to me for more sleep, more rest, more couch, more horizontal, I will put on my running clothes and drive over to the gym, hop onto the hamster wheel and crank up Pandora’s Lady Gaga radio channel and do my obligatory 4 miles (3 miles running at a speed of 7.0, 1 mile walking at 5.0). Because I don’t want to go back.