Random post out of the blue, here. But there’s really no way to start from the beginning at this point, so it’s probably better to drop into the middle and start writing, than to not write a post at all. Random post it shall be.
So I’ve been running now for over a year and a half. I struggle with calling it “running” because I began this whole journey by walking, and I still walk quite a lot. But about a year ago I started morphing into trotting, jogging, “wogging,” whatever you call it, whenever I felt I could do it. Running was a struggle, but walking was slow and boring, so I decided to try to conquer the struggle.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Running has still, always, felt like a struggle, despite having trained to the point of running 6 miles, running several 5k’s a month, and even jog/walking a 10k. I am slow. I feel like I leak energy somehow, because even though I’m “running” I’m not moving forward very fast. My feet pound the pavement, my hips bounce, and my chest feels heavy and fatigued. Some days so much so that I don’t run at all. I just walk. Just drag myself through the course.
I talked to my doctor about it last week, when I went in for my first knee injection (arthritis in my right knee from an old injury), that I wanted to get my heart checked because I wasn’t sure if it was my heart or my lungs that burned whenever I began to exert myself. Doc suggested that I didn’t have many risk factors for heart trouble, but it was possibly exercise-induced asthma that I was experiencing. My mind flashed back to March, when I’d had to run after a train at my fastest speed for about 200 yards (to catch my husband’s wallet that he’d left on board, as the conductor tossed it to me), and how I’d coughed like I had pneumonia for an hour afterward. I agreed to an inhaler just to rule out any asthma.
This past Sunday I ran the Biggest Loser 5k in Racine. After I had parked my car, and had gotten about a block away, I started to feel that burning in my chest again. I remembered that I hadn’t used my inhaler yet, so I went back to the car and took a couple puffs. I’m not even sure if I inhaled deeply enough … I don’t smoke so I’m really skeeved about inhaling things … but in any case, the feeling was gone after that.
When I got to the start line, I felt good. I felt so good that I started jogging in place to warm up. Now, I know you’re supposed to do that before a race, but I’ve never in my life actually felt like doing it. But on Sunday, I was jogging in place, chatting with people around me, stretching lightly, feeling bubbly. The race started, and I took off running.
In the first moments, I was kind of hit with the enormity of running the entire 5k, and the thought was sort of exhausting. But I didn’t want to walk the course. Last year I had gotten my first finisher’s medal on this race, and had set my first PR (to make the medal worth something to me), and I wanted to beat that. So I decided to just keep running until I tired, and then walk/run the rest of the course. I ran for about a third of a mile, until my breathing got heavy, then I dropped to a walk. But my legs didn’t particularly like that. They wanted to keep running. So I let my lungs recover for about a minute, then took off running again.
The course was a bit hilly, I knew that from doing the race last year, and so I tried to visualize the hills coming up so I could mentally prepare. But to my surprise, I wasn’t nervous about them at all. And when I got to them, as I walked up them, my body seemed to ask me if I could maybe run them instead. I did a kind of “upper-body-is-pretending-to-run-while-legs-walk” posture, and even broke into a trot partway up. Coming down the hills actually felt more dangerous, so that’s where I slowed down and walked.
The course was an out-and-back, and since I’d done the course once already, it didn’t seem as long as last year. In fact, despite the hills, as I was probably a quarter mile from the finish, I felt better than I’ve ever felt at that point in a race before. I looked at my Garmin and realized that I might even break a PR if I just kept up the effort to the end. And I did. That finish line came into sight, and while I was tired, it seemed like the easiest “running” finish line I’d ever faced. Yes my lungs were burning as I crossed it, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die, like I usually do. I crossed the finish line, recovered for a couple hundred feet, and then felt normal again. This race felt different. This felt great.
I’ve been thinking about this for several days now. I can’t shake the feeling that something changed for me last weekend. Was it the inhaler? The knee injection? The cooler weather? I want to think it was the inhaler. I have to test it a few more times, but I think we may have actually uncovered a previously unknown condition. Whereas every race I’ve “run” before felt hard and long and pounding and punishing, this one felt easier. I felt so much lighter on my feet than ever before. It’s not because I’ve lost any weight (sadface). It was just … I don’t know how to describe it. When I ran, I covered more ground. I wasn’t aware of my feet pounding. I didn’t feel my hips jiggling. I felt fast and light and buoyant and free. (Well, relatively, at least. I’m still slow, and still have a lot of weight to lose.) But I felt good.
For the first time, I felt like a runner.
(Postscript: just past mile two or so, I ran past an observer on the sidelines who was wearing an Ironman jacket. We caught eyes, and then he called out to me, “I like your pace!” That made me feel soooooooo good!)