Well, folks, it’s been a pretty amazing year to say the least. I feel like my life has taken a complete 180° over the past 12 months. I recently read an article written by a woman named Anne who is a fellow runner and a registered dietitian. Anne recently earned her master’s degree in public health and nutrition. She also writes a pretty killer blog she calls fANNEtastic food. I recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. Anyway, the specific article I’m referring to right now is one in which Anne spoke about her beginnings in the sport of running. After reading it, I thought it would be cool to write down my thoughts and feelings concerning my start in running. Since I just started taking this sport seriously this year, you could say this post is my personal Year In Review. I hope you enjoy!
I wasn’t always a runner. In fact, just one year ago, I would’ve told you I hated running. I mean, I’ve been playing sports pretty consistently all my life. I never had any trouble with running during a sporting event. It was fun then to chase a ball or a frisbee or a person. I guess I just didn’t think of it as running. There was always another objective to take my mind off of what I was actually doing. Running just to run, on the other hand, always had a certain stigma to it for me. I remember seeing a bumper sticker once (which I can now take some pride in) that read “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” It was true. You drop the ball, you run a mile. You miss a tackle, you run a mile. Running wasn’t fun. It was work. It was torture.
I graduated college in May of 2011 and immediately started job hunting. My life was consumed by job applications and the relaxation I told myself I earned by graduating. I usually play ultimate frisbee in the Mercer County (New Jersey) Ultimate Disc League every summer, but I didn’t register for the league last year. I wasn’t limiting myself geographically in my job hunt, so I didn’t want to sign up and not be able to play. When fall 2011 rolled around I found myself deeply missing the sport. It was the first year that I wouldn’t be playing any meaningful ultimate in the fall.
For those of you out there who have taken notice to my URL or the title of this post and wondered if I’m trying to advertise for Reebok, I’m not. Although, if any Reebok execs happen to read this and would like to work out some sort of deal, I’m all ears. “ReeZig Your Life” is more of a tribute to my first pair of running shoes. I’ve since retired those worn and tattered shoes after they carried me through countless miles. To tell you the truth I’m not really sure what made me buy them. Buy them I did, though, and I even started running in them. It was just a mile or two here and there. I figured I should make some effort to stay in shape if I was going to try out for a club ultimate team in the spring. Of course I was kidding myself. I was in a shape, yes, just not a good one for ultimate. I had gained 30 lbs. over my four years of college. While I was aware that I had gained weight, I was in a sort of denial about it. I refused to believe that this “little setback” could keep me from performing well in a sport that I loved.
The first time I remember wanting to run was in August of 2011. I had injured my left ankle and was reduced to hobbling on crutches for a few weeks. It could have just been the crutches talking, but I actually wanted to run. I started off with short distances to test the limits of my ankle. Just when I started feeling confident in my ankle again, the days started getting shorter. I didn’t want to run in the dark, so I bought a membership at the local YMCA. I went to the gym maybe once or twice a week through Nov. – Dec. 2011. I still wasn’t taking fitness seriously. I basically just went to the gym so I wouldn’t be blatantly throwing money away.
Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid you thought it was real? Have you ever woken up from a dream like that thinking, seriously thinking, something significant might have actually happened in you life while you were asleep? I had a dream like that about halfway through the final week of 2011. I honestly don’t remember what the dream was. I guess it doesn’t mater anymore. What matters is what happened because of it. I woke up that next morning not thinking that something had changed, but that something needed to change. I sat up in bed and said to myself, “I’m not happy. I’m overweight, and this needs to change.” I had been down that road before, though. I mean, everyone makes the same New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Like so many others I often found myself giving up on that resolution before January was over. So I tried something new. I needed a more specific goal. It needed to be something I had never done before; something radical; something so farfetched that I would have no choice but to put everything I had into it. I decided, based on a BMI calculator, that I would try to lose 70 lbs. by the end of 2012. How would I do it, though? What could possibly make me work that hard? I said to myself “I am going to run a half marathon.”
That was it. I didn’t think any further about it at all. I didn’t try to talk myself out it. I didn’t let myself develop any doubts. I just accepted the idea that that was going to be my life from then on. I know it sounds a little ridiculous that I could basically just flip a switch and suddenly eliminate nearly every bad habit I’d ever formed, but that’s how it happened. I made a conscious decision that I was going to start paying a lot more attention to what I put into my body, how much of it I put in, and generally how I take care of my body. I decided to make a commitment to actually going to the gym I was spending money on. My first decision on that front was to take gym clothes with me in the morning and go straight from work. If I went home to change clothes I was often easily distracted by food, TV, etc. and then wouldn’t go. I found a training plan to help me prepare for the half marathon I’d committed to running. I was set… until I couldn’t finish the first workout. The ten week program had a 4 mile workout on day 1 and a week 1 long run of 7 miles. I couldn’t even finish the four miler. So I instead joined two group cardio classes at the Y and spent the first few weeks of 2012 building up a fitness base to be able to start the half marathon training.
From there on I plowed through every workout with the notion that I needed to finish. Every workout was absolutely essential to my overall goal for the year. At that point I still had not registered for an actual race. I figured as long as I knew I could do it, what did it matter if anyone else ever saw. My training plan had me running my first half marathon on Sunday, 25-Mar-2012. That was the day of the first major disappointment in my training. I failed to complete the 13.1 miles. I had played an ultimate hat tournament the day before and felt great all day. It was my first time playing ultimate in my “new skin.” I didn’t feel so great the next day, however. I woke up knowing my first half marathon wasn’t going to be a pretty one. I had to stop at mile 11. It was my first time failing as a runner (since building up a good enough fitness base to start the training).
Now, any other year I might have just rolled over and given up, but not this year. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t allow it. I kept working at it. Then, sometime in mid April, I tried for 13.1 miles again. I mapped out a course running through various neighborhoods near my parents’ house and set out on my way. I completed that course! I had finally accomplished my half marathon goal! Or did I? I later discovered the online mapping tool I used was not as accurate as I thought. The 13.1 mile course I thought I ran actually measured out to something in the 11.5 – 12 mile range. Thwarted again! In May I tried out for Amp, a Philadelphia-based mixed ultimate club, and didn’t make the cut. I knew in the back of my mind (regardless of how I tried not to listen) that was I wasn’t going to make it. I’m glad I have that experience now, though.
My friend, Wes, and I decided in May that we would sign up for the 2012 Baltimore Half Marathon. I think that, coupled with the recent failure to make the Amp roster, helped me to develop a slightly different mindset about my training. After two previous failures finish 13.1, I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I needed to, in some indirect way, prove to myself that I could perform in the club ultimate scene. I also didn’t want to look bad in front of all of other runners in Baltimore. haha
So from then on I attacked my workouts with a new intensity. As I said, it was no longer just about completing a goal. I had something to prove to myself and to everyone around me. After tasting failure a few times, I took nothing for granted anymore. I saw myself improving week after week. In early July I accomplished my weight goal. I weighed 247.2 lbs on 02-Jan-2012 and then dropped 70.8 lbs in exactly 7 months time to achieve a weight of 176.4 lbs on 02-Jul-2012. In early August I bought my first house and started a new half marathon training program to run in my new surroundings.
Then, ten weeks later, the day of my first actual race came on Saturday, 13-Oct-2012. I was definitely nervous. I failed to make the distance twice before. Even though I was coming off a good couple of weeks to close out my training program I still felt that maybe I could’ve done more. Was I really ready for this? I laid out my race clothes and pinned my bib to my shirt the night before the race so I could occupy myself. I wanted to have all the time I possibly could to get my mind straight in the morning. When we got to the starting line on race morning we watched the 5k runners finish their race. We stretched out and warmed up alongside the fastest marathoners at the event as they passed by (the half marathoners ran the back half of the marathon course along with the marathoners). It was at that moment that I felt I belonged. I felt like that was going to be the day I finally conquered the half marathon. I was really anxious to get started just waiting in my corral. I remember starting out the race going a little too fast, probably because of the adrenaline rush of my first race. A few miles in I decided to pick a random person to keep pace with in an attempt to prevent myself from slowing down too much. I ended up picking a girl who was obviously faster than me simply because her clothing was very eye-catching (metallic silver spandex pants and a very bright pink shirt). I kept up with her up to mile marker 12, and then we had to cross a bridge. It was the final hill, and one of the larger hills, of the course and I simply didn’t have enough left in me to keep up my speed while going up that final hill. She took off ahead of me and I kept to myself, focusing on the finish. When I did finally cross the finish line I was overcome with an immense feeling of accomplishment. I had finally done it. I had finally conquered the last remaining goal I set for myself on New Year’s Day 2012. I walked around the finishers area with a huge smile on my face, high-fiving and congratulating complete strangers. I finally understood what the proverbial “runner’s high” was. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
Like I said, 2012 has been a pretty amazing year for me. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been supporting me and cheering me on throughout this whole process. It really means a lot, and I couldn’t have done it without all of you. What’s next, you ask? I’m gearing up right now for ultimate team tryouts and my first ever full marathon. I am very excited to see what 2013 brings.
What are some of the highlights of your 2012? If you’re a runner, how did you get started? If you’re not a runner but want to get into it, how do you think you might want to start?