How I Fell in Love with Running, Part I

>> Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where were we? Well, last time -- I told you all about how I viewed health as a child. I ended that story with my discovery of yoga. If you missed out, you can go read that now. But today, I want to share how I started running.

Seriously. It wasn't always this easy for me. Far from it, in fact . . .

I contracted a horrible mystery illness after my freshman year of college. I was living in Ithaca, NY, at the time -- away from home for the summer -- and one day, my throat swelled up. I could hardly swallow soy ice cream, it was that bad. Excruciating waves of pain radiated from my pocked (yes -- ew!) tonsils. I also had a high fever, though I didn't know it yet. But I was young, and I didn't really think to go to the doctor.

So, I did what I knew to do best: I drove to Wegmans.

After standing in the medicine aisles for a while, I noticed my thinking wasn't exactly clear. No, I was dizzy and basically out of it. So, I left the store with some Tylenol and a thermometer, then got in my car to go home. I turned the key. Nothing. I turned the key again. Nothing. I thought maybe in all my out-of-it-ness, I wasn't doing something right. However, after the third attempt to start my car failed, I called my parents -- crying like a baby. Thankfully, they lived only two hours away and told me they'd be right up to help! (Thanks, mom and dad!)

I spent the next two hours sitting in the food court at Wegmans. I had taken my temperature, which was over 102 at that point. Yikes. When my parents arrived, they saw how sick I was and took me to the nearest urgent care center.

What followed was a period of about two and a half weeks where I visited two doctors, had two frantic trips to the ER (I thought my throat was going to close!), have countless viles of blood taken from my body, and eventually had to come home to stay in bed. I stayed in bed for two whole weeks. I was too weak to shower. No one knew what was wrong or why my fever stayed so high, but they blamed it on some wicked, unnamed virus that was similar, but not mononucleosis.

TMI? Maybe. However, this event was my health wake-up call. I hadn't been taking care of myself. I hadn't been eating right. I'd been drinking too much. Not sleeping enough. I rarely exercised. Those two weeks -- spent in a codeine haze, mind you -- gave me a lot of time to think about myself. My health. Toward the end, I couldn't stand it. All that pent-up energy. When my fever finally receded and my tonsils returned to their normal size, the first thing I did was go running.

This is me during this sickness thing. It was one of the few times I got out of bed.

Back to the running. I didn't have proper sneakers. I wore a baggy cotton shirt and mesh shorts I'd worn since 7th grade gym class. I didn't wear socks. But that afternoon, I walked down the stairs of my apartment building with a mission: EXERCISE. Move. Breathe. Feel ALIVE.

Two minutes later, I was panting like crazy. I hardly made it down the street before I felt like I was going to die. But I kept going -- taking walk breaks when I needed them. I did this until I was half a mile from my apartment. Then I turned around and kept going. It was hot. I felt like crap. But I needed to move my legs.

This is my first running route, a 1 mile out-and-back. It's what I ran every day (well, for the most part) for several weeks until I got more used to running.

After that, I decided to challenge myself by adding another mile to this route. Again, I did the walk-run thing if I got tired. It was difficult. OK. I'll be honest here: There were times I would swear under my breath because I hated how awful it felt. But I knew in my heart that running was good for me. I secretly enjoyed it, too. However, that feeling only came after I would finish a workout.

At some point when I was running this 2-mile route, actually -- on my 19th birthday -- I bought my first pair of running shoes. They were a much-cushioned Adidas trail sneaker. I thought they looked cute.

After several weeks of doing this 2-mile route, I increased my distance to three miles. A loop instead of an out-and-back. I kept at this distance for the rest of the summer. My hunger increased -- I started seeing food as fuel. In turn, my eating changed. I felt strong and resilient. I didn't keep track of my pace back then, but I was much slower than I am today. It didn't matter, though: I had forged my identity as a runner. I printed off a 5K plan in late August.

But the universe had other plans.

I was back in the ER after I badly twisted my knee -- I didn't do this running. Nope. Clumsy me twisted it while packing to move to my new apartment. The doctor told me I had nearly torn a ligament and that the only recipe for pain relief was rest and ice. I can't even begin to explain how discouraged this made me feel. I was a runner, I told the doctor. I couldn't take time off. I was finally able to run three miles consistently!

I listened to his advice, though. I knew I had to or I might never run again. Plus, the pain. Ouch. So, I moved. I started the fall semester of my sophomore year. And on September 11, 2002, I went for my first post-injury run. I remember it was September 11th because there was a memorial at the local high school that I ran by. I ran in the dark because I didn't want anyone to see me struggle. I had pain, yes. But I was OK enough to run my three miles. My ability to retain my fitness shocked me. I wasn't quite as comfortable, but I wasn't completely out of breath either!

On that run, I fell in love. I felt confident, strong, and fit. I felt HAPPY for my new relationship with food and my body (it didn't used to be so good, as you'll remember) . . . and I was far from the weak, bed-ridden teen that I had been earlier in the summer. I was also far from that girl who hated running The Mile in gym class.

That's part I. Part II is coming soon! In the meantime, are you in need of some healthy fitspiration? While you're here, you can read more great stories -- as well as submit your own healthy living story to be featured on our site!

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