“I only run if someone is chasing me, like you know, the cops.”
I’ve said that thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times. Usually, I said it either when someone suggested that I go for a run with them, or when they were bragging about their latest extraordinary run. Fitting that I’d move to a running town, made famous by some fool who runs in all sorts of weather wearing nothing but a Speedo. One of the few successful shops on Main Street in Annapolis is a running store. It’s been there as long as I can remember. You can’t take a drive for more than 30 minutes without seeing at least 25 of those obnoxious 26.2 euro style stickers on cars. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the occasional 0.0 sticker, thinking to myself “I’m not the only one who doesn’t run.”
Except now I do.
Perhaps it’s peer pressure. Perhaps, I’ve just finally succumbed to the influences of the area. Perhaps it’s another case of ego getting the best of me. Or perhaps, it’s just that I’ve learned a few things about myself over the past two years and eight months without a drink. While it’s quite conceivable that I have indeed let my ego take over and given into peer pressure, I prefer to believe that I’ve learned to believe in myself.
For years, I told myself that I couldn’t do things. Running was only one of them. I told myself that I couldn’t lose weight, couldn’t eat the right foods, couldn’t leave jobs, couldn’t get the girl, couldn’t stop drinking, couldn’t be an alcoholic. My faith in the fact that I wasn’t capable of doing things or of being things was perhaps the strongest faith I’ve ever known. I was sure that I couldn’t run.
But I secretly wanted to. Just as I secretly wanted to stop drinking, and secretly wanted my wife to tell me I was an alcoholic. As if I needed someone to tell me that I could be.
External affirmation and confirmation is something that I’ve sought my entire life. When I was a kid, I needed desperately for other kids to like me. Perhaps that started because I moved around so much after my birth father committed suicide. By the time I was in fourth grade, I’d lived in six different apartments or houses and been to five different schools. I was already different from all the other kids because my dad had died. I was different in other ways too, ways that I didn’t know at the time, and am grateful for today. But it was not easy being the new kid all the time.
In addition to that, by the time I settled into a private school in fourth grade, I was living in a neighborhood in the country which had two other kids my age. And all my friends from school lived 5, 10, 15 miles away from me. During the summers, we would go to the pool, and I would know who the other kids at the pool were by their reputations as bad kids. They were easy to spot. They were the bullies who would dunk younger kids in the pool. But I didn’t know many of the other local kids, because I didn’t go to school with them.
Today I know that my near constant need for external affirmation was driven by the deep rooted feelings of abandonment that arose from my father’s suicide. I still struggle with wanting things that I can’t have or don’t need to this day. It’s as if I’m trying to fill a void with material things. Only those things don’t fill the void, they just collect dust in the house when they are no longer exciting and new.
I suspect that many people who suffer from addictions have similar stories. And by that I mean, I know they do, because I’ve heard them. Like many others in recovery, I suffer from a deep sense of not being worthy. And for me that deep sense of unworthiness has manifest as a voice that tells me that I can’t do things.
But I’ve learned that I can do things that I once thought were impossible. I’ve learned that I am worthy. And I’ve made it through the day today without taking a drink — one day at a time, 978 times in a row and counting.
So I got to thinking about this running thing a few months ago. Maybe, just maybe, the idea that I can’t run was another lie that I’d told myself. Maybe it was another story I’d made up to cover up a sense of shame I felt for not being athletic, for not being fit, for being overweight. And maybe, like so many other narratives, it was false.
I started reading a few sites about running. I started thinking about it more and more. I did the walking version of the Beaver Stadium 5K run event over Blue White Weekend. And I saw most of my friends doing the run. Dudes in their forties just like me, running a 5K. Some of them, still heavier than they should be, and some recently slimmed down smaller than I’d ever known them to be. And I wanted to be like them.
I thought to myself, what’s stopping you?
And I answered: “My ankles are fucked. I did a lot of damage to them as a young skate rat. Same with my knees. You don’t have it in you to run, your body just isn’t built for it.”
Except I suspected that maybe I didn’t know these things to be true as much as I suspected them to be excuses. I have been an avid cyclist. I walk a lot and I love to hike. Sure, I’ve had some problems with the left knee, but maybe I was letting that get the best of me.
It was about 5 weeks ago that I had a conversation with a long time friend who happens to be a runner over a bowl of pho where I confided that I’d been thinking of giving it a try. Dave told me that many people start out by trying to run for a given period of time or a given distance and find that it’s painful and end up hurting themselves. This sounded familiar, in fact I sounded like what I expected to happen. But he went on to say that the best way to start would be to essentially sprinkle short distances of running into my walks. He suggested that I look into an app called Couch to 5K that would help me to time the intervals.
Suddenly this made sense. I could try this, even if it didn’t sound like running. Because, really, it didn’t sound like running. It sounded a lot like walking. And it also sounded very different than how I’d gotten back into cycling. See with cycling, you get on the bike and ride. Sure you go short distances, and maybe you ride intervals at different speeds, but you ride the bike. You don’t ride for a bit, and then push the bike, and then ride again. You get on the bike and you ride it. I’d always figured that starting running meant, well, running.
Dave also suggested that I look into some plans that Jeff Galloway had published. Now, I had no idea who the hell Galloway was, but I figured if Dave said I should look into him, then I should. And of course I found out that he’s a famous Olympian who advocates a walk/run program for people who are starting out. Suddenly, this running thing seemed less like something that I coulnd’t do, and more like something that I maybe I could do. And so I started on the C25K program.
The first run was horrible. And by that I mean the 8 minutes of running that were sprinkled in between 22 other minutes of walking were awful. My knee hurt. My calves hurt. I was winded. I wasn’t dressed appropriately so I was fucking hot. But I did it. And after I did it, I had sense of accomplishment. The next day, I went for a bike ride, and promptly had my hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up like a guitar string tuned an octave too high. I could barely walk was I got out of the car and headed to my customer appointments that day.
I learned that ice, and stretching were my friend. I got new shoes that were properly fitted at a running shop. And I followed the guidance of the app religiously. If it told me to walk, I walked — and if it said to run, I ran. I put a day between each run, and took two days off after three runs. In short, I followed a plan. And soon enough, I found that I could run pretty comfortably for five minutes at a time, and recover quickly as I was walking. And the knee pain disappeared.
Suddenly, I’d started to feel like I was actually running, because I was spending more time on a 30 minute session actually running than walking. And then, yesterday, I opened the app and it said, “your’e gonna run for 20 minutes straight today, but you’re ready for it.” I didn’t believe that. I was sure that I’d collapse. I was sure that my virtual trainer, Constance, was smoking some serious crack.
But then, I did it. I ran for 20 minutes straight, and I felt good doing it. And even better after it was done. I am amazed how far I’ve come in 5 weeks. And I know now that the narrative that I can’t run is a false narrative.
I also know that there are other false narratives that I have told myself that I need to address. But they will have to wait. Just as I learned when I first started my journey in recovery that I couldn’t stop drinking, start exercising, and eat right all at the same time, some things are conquered best one thing at a time.