Thursday, April 11, 2013

How I Became A (Slow) Runner

I don’t believe I’ve ever told the story of where I originally got the idea of starting to run by going slowly. In fact, it’s slightly embarrassing. But since I’m learning to tell the truth, I will admit it now: I got it from Jane Fonda.

This Jane Fonda:

As opposed to the Barbarella, Black Panther, Hanoi, Keffiyeh, Ted Turner, or Christian Jane Fonda. (I just learned that her given name was Lady Jayne Fonda. Could explain a lot.) (I like Feminist Jane Fonda, just for the record.)

Anyway, the year after I graduated from college was a not great time for me, and it occurred to me that getting fit might help things. I was not overweight, but I was definitely not strong. One day I found an old Jane Fonda book (not even sure which one) lying around my mother’s house. I briefly tried a few of the exercises, but they felt absurd and rather useless. Then one very small paragraph caught my attention: she mentioned that running is a good way to exercise, but that you should make sure you don’t run so fast that you have a hard time talking.

Well, I had always liked the idea of running, but whenever I tried it, I found it miserable. I was gasping, cramping, and unable to go for more than a few minutes. It had never occurred to me that running didn’t have to feel this way. So I put on some crappy shoes and vaguely exercise-appropriate clothes and went out the door. I was shocked to find how slowly I actually had to go to feel like I could still converse. (Mind you, I was not conversing. I made sure to do this someplace where no one I would know could possibly spot me.)

And this time, I could do it. I walked some of it, sure, but at the end of 30 minutes, I was exhilarated. I think by the end of that very first run, I was hooked. (Aside: I am writing this via dictation because I have a wrist injury* and it kept transcribing “f—ed” instead of “hooked.” Maybe I should have left that uncorrected.)

The rest was trial and error. I quickly figured out that if I ran two days in a row, something started to hurt. I discovered that running on a track gave me knee problems, probably due to running on a slant/turning corners constantly. I found that if I tried to track my time too closely, I ran too fast and burned out before the end, and that I shouldn’t speed up until the second half of a run. I learned that eating candy before a run was not wise. I figured out that I couldn’t run early as I was too stiff in the morning, even in my 20s.

And I got rid of my chronic headaches. I became strong. I found muscles in my legs I didn’t know existed. I was better able to manage my anxiety. But most importantly, I was a runner, and having that identity somehow made me feel so much more confident and able to face life.

So thanks, Jane!

*Said injury due to bad luck, not deliberate self-injury: I was trying to move a large picture when the frame fell apart and the glass slid out. Turns out if you slice the inside of your wrist open, the staff in the emergency department get quite worried. I also found out that showing up to your therapy appointment with a wrist wrapped in gauze can cause quite a stir. The receptionist couldn’t spot my name in the appointment book at first, and suddenly four people were running around reassuring me and chasing down my therapist (who was in the bathroom, poor guy). I didn’t even know that many support staff worked there. In the session my therapist asked what the heck THAT was that all about. I showed him my wrist and he was like, “Ohhhhhhh, right.”