Sunday, December 26, 2010

You run? I hate running! My Christmas present under the trees

Running seems to be the sport that people love to hate.  I am always baffled when people tell me how much they hate running.  It's hard. It hurts.  Blah, blah, blah.  They tell me about the excruciating pain that they endure when running.  I am always baffled by these people dissing a sport that they know means so much to me.  How do they expect me to react?  Do they want me to convert them, commiserate with them, make suggestions or passively listen?  I tend to tell them about my rocky journey as a runner.

Nineteen years ago I met my husband Steve.  He was the first real runner that I had ever known.  I didn't get what he liked about running.  Since running was SO important to the most important person in my life, I wanted to share this connection.  I decided to surprise my honey by learning to run.  It was a lot harder than I expected.  Even though I was in good physical shape from taking aerobic classes and lifting weights, running hurt!  I didn't enjoy it one bit.  I couldn't run a solid mile.  I started running what I've come to learn is the Galloway style, alternating running and walking.  I continued in this manner until I was able to run for three consecutive miles.

Eventually I let Steve in on the secret and that I had bravely signed myself up for a 5K.  Steve immediately volunteered to be a course marshall for the race.  I'll never forget the tears in his eyes as he saw me at the half way point of my first 5K.  Here was a man who's run all his life and had run marathons and ultras, cheering on a 10-minute-mile-5K-gal like me on!  It was a lot of work running that race, but the satisfaction I felt at the finish line, made all the sweat, sore muscles and training time worth it.

Even with my first 5K under my belt, I still didn't feel like a runner and didn't find a whole lot of enjoyment in running.  For some reason, I wanted to keep at it.  I signed up for another 5K so that I would continue to have a reason to keep running.  I did almost all my training with Steve.  He was patient and somehow put up with my incessant complaints during our runs.  My stomach was tight.  I had shooting pains in my shins.  My lungs were burning.  How could he possibly like running?  He remained a passive sounding board.  He made no promises.  He offered a few tips.  Swing your arms along the sides of your body rather than up in front of you.  Shorten or lengthen your stride depending on the incline.  Breathe deeply.  He occasionally tricked me into running further and faster that I wanted to.  He was the best running coach I could've asked for.  I completed my second 5K, made a new PR and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I wasn't miserable the entire duration of the race.  

A car accident and severe case of whiplash, derailed my initial short lived running career.  Once I healed, I got busy with grad school, entered the demanding profession of teaching, became a homeowner and then had twin daughters.  There didn't seem to be room in my life for running anymore.  It wasn't until my daughters were around 18 months old that I decided to give running a go again.  It was something that all four of us could do together.  Since Steve was a stronger runner, he could push the girls in the double stroller and I could run along the side.  After a few months of training, we signed up for a Valentine's Day 5K and the four of us ran a couple's 5K.  With Steve's slave-driving during that race, I was able to run it faster and make yet another PR!  Four years later, I still give him a hard time about how hard he pushed me physically that day.  Once again, I hung up my running shoes and headed to the gym for aerobic classes and weight lifting. Running wasn't my thing.

Running continued to be a major part of Steve's life.  He ran the Eugene Marathon in May of 2008.   While my toddler-aged daughters and I cheered him on throughout the race and watched him cross the finish line, I noticed something that forever shifted my mindset.  I thought that all marathoners were physically fit, slim, born-athletes who had always run and could easily run 26.2 miles.  This is how I saw my husband.  He was born to run.  His long lean muscular body fit the runner stereotype.  He is super coordinated, enjoys a little friendly competition and has been athletic all his life.  I didn't match that mold at all.  Leah and athlete were not words that were ever intertwined.  While I was there to cheer on and support my husband, I was blown away by the marathoners that day. They came in all shapes, sizes, ages, levels and speeds.  I was especially impressed with the older, bulkier, less coordinated and less fluid runners who obviously were digging really deep to complete this race.  I was utterly impressed with their courage and tenacity.  Each finisher was victorious as he/she crossed the finish line.  If these people could run a marathon, surely I could too. 

I had gotten so absorbed with my working mother life that I had fallen into a rut and had lost a zest for life.  Training for and running a marathon would be the perfect opportunity to break out of this rut and tackle a new goal.  Sometime over the next fourteen weeks while training for my first marathon, I fell in love with running.  I loved the structure of a training plan, having a goal that took months to work toward, and how no matter how much I asked of my body, it was able to deliver.  I loved how it connected me with healthy active interesting people, the satisfaction and pride that I felt when I achieved a new running milestone, and how running helped me drop 25 pounds and go from a size 10 to a size 2.  The beautiful thing about running is that these things carried over into other areas of my life.  I went on to run that marathon.  I'll never forget that day.  It left me wanting more in life.  If I could run a marathon, something I thought was beyond my capabilities, what other things were possible?  Suddenly the sky was the limit.  With careful planning, persistence, dedication, I could do anything that I set my mind to.

Sharing this running passion with Steve is really special.  Since having kids, we have perfected the fine art of tag team.  One of us holds down the fort and does kid-duty while the other runs.  We have made this equitable and for the most part it works for us.  We make a very good team.  While I have an amazing running partner and lots of running buddies, there's something very sweet about running with my man.  He's the one who introduced me to running, helped me learn to become a runner, showed me the joys of endurance running and has been there every step of my running journey.  Because we have young children, busy schedules and limited access to babysitters, it's very rare for us to actually be able to run together.  I miss it.  He misses it.  The fact is this is where we are at this point in our lives.  

Yesterday for Christmas, I loved hearing the happy squeals of my children as they opened presents.  My mother had flown up to spend Christmas with us and we were thoroughly enjoying her sweet company.  It was a nice quiet Christmas.  The cherry on top of the day was hitting the trails with my husband while my children hung out with their grandma.  We had a chatty seven mile run on our favorite Ridgeline Trail.  I had a late and rather big lunch and was feeling a little under the weather, so it was a physically tough run for me.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the time I spent with the person who got me started in this sport, my biggest supporter and most vocal cheerleader.  We reconnected with each other and took in the sights along the trail.  This year my best Christmas present wasn't under the tree per se, but under the trees with my partner.

I fully understand when people talk about running and how difficult it is.  I've been there.  Some days I achieve a running "blissed out" state and some days, every step is a struggle.  Isn't this true of most things in life?  Isn't life more sweet after we experience struggles?  Isn't accomplishing a goal more satisfying the harder you work for it?  If you like running or want to learn to like running, run!  If you don't, find something else to do that brings you joy and is good for your body.

Here are some pictures of my Christmas day run.
My beloved Ridgeline Trail

Natural art and archecture 
Fuzzy perches along the way

Playing peek-a-boo in my playground

View of Eugene and Autzen Stadium from the trail

Steve right at home on the trail

Ridgeline offers accommodations for couples ' running dates!


  1. Leah, I am so proud of you. You give me hope and inspiration to continue on. Thanks for your posts!! Keep it up. I am draftng behind you. I hope someday to run beside you.... but, drafting right now works for me :) Terrie

  2. I love the pictures of your trail! Very different than my Ridgeline trail out here in NC.

    I, too, always try to explain to people that when you start out running sucks. I tell them until they can run about 3 miles it will suck. And even then most of your runs the first mile or two will suck. But once you get past that it's all worth it. Throw some trails to run in the mix and it's pure heaven!

  3. Can relate to nearly everything you shared. Love the pics. What is not to like about running there, I say!

  4. great post!! i have a love hate relationship with running, but really i love it :-) gonna try and get started up in the new year again. GORGEOUS pics!!

  5. Wow, this is one of the best posts I've *ever* read about running. You are so eloquent and inspirational! So beautifully said.

    I used to hate running, but I think sometimes it's because I told myself that I hated running. One day I just decided that if I was going to keep running (since I do triathlons, that's kinda necessary) that I should stop hating it. Now I love it. Trail running makes me love it more though. I was up on the Ridgeline yesterday, boy it is icy now!!