Headlamps, Hip Pains, Hysterectomies, Hills & Hokas
My First Year in Review as a Bona Fide Runner
By Susan Olive
It was in the not so distant past when I would be driving along and notice that dedicated athlete, huffing away as they pounded the pavement in less than pleasant conditions. I would always think to myself “Why on earth would they run voluntarily?” I would become even more perplexed if it was early or really late in the day, pouring down rain, or some other typical northwest weather unpleasantry. Yet at the very same moment, I was secretly wondering if that person could ever be me.
So about a year ago, at the ripe old age of 46, I began entertaining the thought of running for the first time in my life. I was trying one of those popular “Couch to 5K” training programs and was having a hard time getting past the part where it would have you run for more than a couple minutes at a time. I hated that part. It hurt. My legs felt like I had lead shoes on. Absolutely nothing about it was fun. I dreaded the “run” portions and couldn’t wait for the “walk” portions. I was starting to convince myself that I must not be the runner type.
Then my good friend, Aimee (who is a long time runner) started telling me about a running class called “Dirty Girls Trail Running” that she had recently joined. She seemed to really like it and was having a lot of fun. I distinctly remember my first thought being, “Why would you ever pay somebody to go running with you?” ..with my second thought being, “How could running possibly be that fun?” But she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it. So I thought that perhaps I should give it a try and take one last shot at seeing if there was a hidden runner inside me waiting to come out.
I proceeded to check out these so called “Dirty Girls” and wanted to see how they were managing to make running fun. Aimee hooked me up with Coach Alexa and I took a peek at her website. I was relieved to see that the participants were not all zero percent body fat ultra-marathoner twenty something year-olds. There appeared to be various shapes, sizes and ages taking the classes. And best of all, every one of them was smiling and looking like they were having the time of their lives!
I decide to go with the “beginner” 5k Wednesday night class 6 week session. I remember my first day very well. It was the middle of winter, the class was mid-session, and it happened to be meeting at a local track that night. It was cold and dark, but I was prepared. I was nervous, but excited at the same time. I wouldn’t know anybody there, which made it a little bit out of my comfort zone. Plus I was trying something new where I didn’t feel particularly confident in my abilities. It also didn’t help that on my way to the class, I had called my mother to excitedly tell her about joining a 5k running class and her response was, “Are you sure you will be able to run at your weight?”. She actually really is a sweetheart and meant well (and totally regrets that she said it to this day). However, she said it because she had the preconception that I and many others had/have: You need to be thin/in shape to run. Running isn’t for overweight people.
Despite the non-vote of confidence from my dear mother, I continued to drive and went to the class. As I approached the group in my embarrassingly clean and newly purchased first pair of real running shoes, I introduced myself and was pleased to find the people to be extremely welcoming. My nerves started to settle down and I began to think that the worst was over. And that’s when Coach Alexa announces that it is time to start the “warm up”. Apparently, the warm up consists of running two laps around the track. Wait. Hold on a second. Did she just say run two laps? I thought I was here to learn HOW to run…….over a period of time! Even the Couch to 5K lets you start out walking! As people took off on the track, some of the lovely runners gently took me under their wing and assured me I’d be fine. I decided to suck it up and started running alongside them, praying that I wouldn’t embarrass myself while desperately repeating “don’t pass out, don’t pass out, don’t pass out” in my head. By the time we were done with the two lap warm up, I was completely out of breath and wondering how I could possibly survive the entire class. But secretly, I was a little bit surprised and delighted that I actually was able to run that far and live to tell about it. I really had no idea I had that in me.
Well, since that fateful first day of class last February, Coach Alexa and the Dirty Girls (and Dudes!) had me hook, line and sinker. I kept re-enrolling in the 6 week class. By the time summer rolled around, I was adding the Saturday longer distance trail classes as well. I even started dragging my husband along so I could share this positive experience with him. There truly are not enough words to describe the many things that I love about this group and how it has enriched my life. I have fallen in love with the splendor of the forest trails and appreciate exercising in the magnificence of the great outdoors. I have met so many encouraging and inspiring people. I am forming wonderful lasting new friendships. I am discovering that my body can achieve things I never thought could be possible. And last, but certainly not least, there is the amazing Coach Alexa, who has the uncanny ability to know exactly when to push you and when to pull back. She is like a mother, mentor, best friend and your biggest cheerleader rolled into one zany, hilarious, smart, fearless, beautiful package.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Year of Running has not been a complete bed of roses. I did have a couple of setbacks in the beginning. I needed a little physical therapy for a sore knee (despite what my title says, it wasn’t really hip pain - but knee didn’t work as well into the title’s alliteration). Then there was the unexpected hysterectomy surgery in July that set me back 6 weeks. However, I surprised myself by not using either one of them as an excuse to give up. I found myself being determined to recover as quickly as possible so that I could get back to running again. I found out that I actually missed it!
I also feel I must disclose that I haven’t broken any speed records and I’m certainly not running any marathons. I do enjoy a nice kind pace (Alexa doesn’t like us to use the word slow). She has taught me that it is not a failure if you need to walk for part of your run. She has shown me how to listen to my body and know when I need to rest and when I need to push a little harder. My original goal was to just be able to do 5ks, but I just did a 15k recently and hope to complete a 25K in May.
I recently find myself wanting to branch out just a little bit more and test the running waters. I want to push myself just a little bit harder. I attribute a lot of this to Alexa’s recent ingenious “Diehard Challenge” (and perhaps my recent induction into the Hoka Cult) . The Diehard Challenge was created to help encourage us all to continue our outdoor running during the winter months. The worse the weather/conditions, the more points you earn. Now I’m excited when I find out my run is going to be on a dark, cold morning with sideways rain and howling wind. More challenge points! I’m even getting up on Tuesdays at 5 a.m. to run in the middle of the dark cougar populated forest with a bunch of headlamp wearing “Dirty Before Dawn”, diehard girls/dudes before work…and I love every minute of it! All of a sudden I find myself starting to feel more confident about my running and wanting to see what else I am capable of.
Recently I ran a 5k for time. It was a course I ran in November where I was just happy to have been able to finish the race without walking. Now I wanted to see if I could step it up. I wanted to see if I could sustain, what for me is, an uncomfortable pace. It wasn’t my prettiest of runs. My legs felt like lead for most of it and the least bit of incline was a struggle. I couldn’t even talk to my friend running alongside me because I had to concentrate on my breathing or I thought for sure I would pass out! My friend was a great encourager and helped pace me and inspire me to keep pushing along. As we rounded the final corner and dramatically increased our speed towards the finish line, I started to feel a new exhilaration that I hadn’t experienced ever before. When we crossed that finish line and I knew I had gotten my PR, I couldn’t help but burst into tears. I was on cloud nine!
I am proud to see how far I have come in this last year, and am eager to see what this coming year has in store. I look forward to all the fun races & running trips planned with a remarkable group of people and the cherished friends I have made. I look forward to seeing what challenges I will face and how I will overcome them. I look forward to continue working on conquering those hills and see if I really can pick up the pace a little. Heck, maybe I could even pick up the pace AND talk at the same time?!
In December our Dirty Before Dawn group ran the Narrows Bridge at 5am on Christmas Eve. Cars were honking as we ran in our Christmas tutus, Santa hats and jingle bells. It was then that it occurred to me that now I am “one of those runner people”. The ones that people drive by and think, “Why on earth is she running at this time of the morning?!”
It took me awhile to feel comfortable describing myself as “runner”. Not only am I now a bona fide runner…. I’m a crazy early in the morning, out in the dark pouring rain kind of runner! I had no idea it had been sitting there inside me for 46 years, patiently waiting for a chance to come out and play.