I’m sure by now you’ve heard: Today is National Running Day!
I love that runners get a holiday, and I love that we celebrate it by doing what we do best: lacing up and hitting the road, trail or treadmill.
Of course, it would be nice if we also got the day off to take advantage, but I suppose runners know how to make do.
I started my day off by following my training plan and covering 5 miles on the Bridle Path in Central Park.
There were so many people out bright and early this morning. I was in awe and I was in love.
I wondered how many people knew it was National Running Day, and how many were just going about their usual routines.
My run wasn’t the fastest and it wasn’t the longest. But it felt good.
I’ve written briefly about how I started running but figure today’s a good day to revisit the topic in hopes of motivating running newbies to get started. Because trust me — if I can run, anyone can run.
Let me preface this by saying that running is hard. I read things from bloggers all the time saying things like, “Just went for an easy 7-mile shakeout run, 7:45 pace.” To them, that’s practically a rest day. To most people, that’s hardly the case. That’s OK all around.
The beauty of running is that it’s an individual activity. It’s easy to get caught up in the ever-present comparison trap, but running is on you. There’s no “we” in “run.”
I don’t know. That sounded better in my head…
So, to take you back: I grew up dancing. Tap, jazz, ballet, kickline, the whole deal, and I did it competitively. Dancing was my life. Gym class was my nemesis. I was not athletic. Despite my dad’s efforts to turn me into a little basketball champion, I was a non-contact activity kind of girl. I could sell Girl Scout Cookies with the best of ’em and I could tap dance circles around all of my friends.
But when it came to that dreaded day in fifth grade when we had to run the mile in gym class, I wanted to cry.
I remember walking around the loops of the field with my friend, talking and not even trying. Still, I hated it.
Running was torture.
I danced my way through high school and college. I went through 10+ pairs of pointe shoes but never owned a real pair of running shoes.
During my senior year of college, my friend Dana and I decided we would train for a 5K. Her parents were going to buy her a new car if she did it.
There was no reward for me, and though I went out for a few runs around campus with my giant discman in tow, I never made it to a start or finish line.
(I should note that dear Dana still got a car, despite not running a race either. Lucky.)
The summer after college graduation I found myself living in Connecticut with no job. I waitressed a few days a week but was discouraged by not being able to find a permanent magazine job in New York City like I so desperately wanted.
So I turned to running.
I put on giant, clunky sneakers and would occasionally jog around the neighborhood I lived in.
I still didn’t love it.
It felt like something I was forcing myself to do, not something I wanted to do.
After a few months I got the job I wanted so badly and moved to NYC to start a new life. I moved into an apartment in Spanish Harlem with three strangers — one of whom was a runner.
Meghan proudly displayed her half marathon medals on her wall, and I was kind of indifferent to them. I had never even heard of a half marathon, though she patiently explained the concept to me.
As I adjusted to life in NYC — late nights drinking, even later nights ordering in — I realized I needed to do something healthy.
So one day I put on the heavy sneakers I always wore to the gym and went outside to the East River Path.
And then I started to run.
I ran from 102nd Street to 96th Street — just over a quarter mile — before stopping due to being completely out of breath.
I kind of liked it though. Something was different this time. I was independent for the first time in my life, living in the big city, starting a new job, meeting new people.
I liked that I could easily put on shoes and a heavy duty sports bra and get a workout in.
Soon I found myself getting up early before work to go running. I loved watching the sunrise come up over the river — some things never change — and eventually I built from 6 blocks to 10 to a full mile (20 blocks).
My reward: puppies. The dog park at Carl Schurz Park was a little over a mile from my apartment at the time. If I could run that far, I’d get to see puppies.
My roommate took me running a few times, and I’ll never forget the first time I went running in Central Park. I was amazed at the energy and all the people running and biking around me. When we finished our run that night, we sat on the steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sweating all over the steps. We affectionately referred to that night as the time we “sweat on the Met” for months to come.
When I stopped looking at running as something I had to do, I was finally able to enjoy it.
I enjoyed the freedom. I could control my own pace. I could control how far I ran. I was in total control.
Yes, I am a control freak. But you knew that already.
After a few months of running a few miles at a time, Meghan convinced me to sign up for my first race: the FITNESS Mind Body & Spirit Games 4-mile race in Central Park. I remember that run feeling like the most difficult thing in the world. The hills in Central Park were killer, but the rush I got was unlike anything I’d ever felt.
I cried as I crossed the start line and screamed a sigh of relief when I crossed the finish line. I finished in 40:46, which is a 10:11 pace. I was so happy.
And then I was hooked. With further encouragement from Meghan, I almost immediately signed up for a half marathon with Team Challenge. I had an incredible group of people supporting me as I trained for the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon and raised money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
Since then I’ve run five half marathons and a handful of shorter races. I’m training for my first full marathon now, with the help of Run For The Rabbit and the wonderful, brilliant Coach Cane.
It’s been just about three years since I really started running, and today I find myself on that same river path I started on, motivating myself to “just make it to the puppies.”
My motivation is different now, but the rush I get from each run is the same.
Running keeps me sane.
It helps me clear my head when I’m stressed, and it helps me focus when I’ve got a problem to tackle.
I’ve made countless friends through running and have learned so much about my body, my health and what I’m capable of.
I never thought I was enjoy running, let alone be willing to identify myself as a runner.
Running has become a huge part of my life. It has changed me for the better.
And this coming from the girl who flat out refused to run one mile in fifth grade. Doesn’t seem so bad now…
So today I encourage you to run. Whether you’re a runner or you’re not, give it a shot. If you like it, that’s great. If you hate it, then you still tried and that makes you awesome.
(Also of note: As I was about to hit Publish on this post, an adorable coworker came over and excitedly let me know she woke up early this morning and went running! She didn’t know it was National Running Day, but she had the urge and went for it. My heart is filled with pride!)
SHARE: What does running mean to you? Why do you run? How big of a role does running play in your life? Have you always been a runner, or did you start doing it later in life? Basically just talk to me about running. Thanks.