In March, 2007, I started running seriously for the first time in my life. I was 32 years old and was really starting from scratch.
Most of my previous encounters were limited to walking and occasionally jogging on the treadmill after my bi-monthly workouts at the YMCA in deference to the notion that cardio was supposed to be good for something too. I do have a vague memory of my 8 year old self running beside the family car as fast as I could after I got a new pair of sneakers, but that may have had more to do with an other undiagnosed condition than any sporting aspirations.
My wife on the other hand, had been running long distances for many years and it was her workout of choice. I had always listened to her running stories with fascination and curiosity, but had never imagined I could really run. I just figured I was a better fit for mountain biking, where I could be proud of my “Clydesdale” stature. Then I learned from her what it meant to be a penguin, and that running long and slow is better than running fast but not making it to the finish line. This took a little bit of the intimidation out of the game, and I started on a couch-to-5km plan that dictated a slow evolution of walk-run ratios. This type of plan assumes a prior fitness level of ‘couch-bound’, so there are no excuses, and it really worked.
I never would have guessed that I would have stuck with running for over seven months now. I’m hoping I can look back seven years or several decades from now and say that it was the best habit I ever started. But for now, where do I point the finger? My wife not-so-jokingly reminds me that this past March she was in the midst of dissertation defense preparations and it wouldn’t exactly have been inconvenient for me to find new ways to escape the apartment. Coincidence? Maybe not, but with the defense behind her I’m still ramping up my weekly mileage. Another potential motivation culprit was my workplace’s 2000km virtual trek from downtown Toronto to Rainy River, Ontario. I hadn’t ever pegged myself as the competitive type, but my team was on the map and headed for that finish line whether I wanted to walk or not – so why not go for it? I had read that 10,000 steps a day is ideal, and I assumed I did more than most. After averaging a humbling 4,000 steps with my pedometer over the first few days, I realized I wasn’t quite as active as I liked to imagine. If I wanted my team to be the first to Rainy River, I would have to kick things into high gear so I decided to get my extra steps by running. Throwing an extra 5k run onto my daily routine suddenly put me into the 15,000-20,000 range. Now we’re talking! Over the next five weeks, my team showed some great tenacity and we held on to cross the virtual finish line first (by a mere 1km!).
I really think a little healthy competition can be tremendously motivating. Whether my team won that trek or not, I was determined to not come in last place or at least go down guns blazing having put in my best effort. But ultimately, the only real competition is with yourself. As one runner said on the start line a couple weeks ago: “Where ever you go, there’s always someone faster than you”. I thought “Wow, that’s so true, let’s all just have a good time”, and then he proceeded to rip off a jaw-dropping 14:09 5k. I think he will have to be very patient to find that faster person, but his advice remains spot-on.