January 23, 2012

Runday Monday: My Running Start

Yesterday I shared a photo and the multitude of stories it tells. That got me to thinking that a whole week of posts related to 'stories' would be fun. Today, Runday Monday, you get to share in the story of my running start. It is a story that, without exaggeration, changed the story of my life. The moment I decided to start running ... more specifically, the moment I decided to run a marathon changed how the next chapters of my life would unfold.

I remember the moment as clearly as if it were yesterday. It was 2002 and I was sitting in my black Kia Rio in the underground parking garage of the Fortis Building in downtown St. John's. I had left my apartment a little early and caught an interview on the radio with the Arthritis Society's Executive Director. She was talking about the Joints in Motion program in which participants voluntarily fundraise and run a marathon in another country. The whole thing intrigued me and, even though I had arrived at work with a to-do list a mile long, I sat in my car to hear the end of the chat. When she said that the next race provincial Joints in Motion team would participate in was Dublin, Ireland, that was it, I was hooked. Keep in mind I was a 23 year old girl who enjoyed travel, partying and fun. Dublin, Ireland just about summed all that up.

That day I called the Arthritis Society for more details and attended the next Joints in Motion information session shortly after. I committed to the run at that session. In hindsight, I probably should have been committed. You see, not only was I a 23-year-old who enjoyed socials and sociables, I was also overweight and led pretty much a sedentary lifestyle. I didn't run, in fact unless I was going to grab lunch or a coffee, I didn't even walk very far. Going from crossing the street to crossing the finish line in just a five month window wasn't necessarily the wisest decision.

Nonetheless, I was in with a heart and a half. Good thing too as it quickly became evident I might need that extra half heart if I was going to survive the training. At the time, I lived in east end just a short walk from Quidi Vidi lake. The introductory run of my training was going to be a walk/run from my house to the lake, around, and back home again. All in all, it would have been about 5km max. It turned out to be a run to the lake and a barely made it run-to-jog-to-walk back home. Probably not even three-quarters of a kilometer. Seriously. I entered our apartment and pretty much collapsed in the middle of the living room floor. My roomie/bestie witnessed the whole end scene and can easily share her memory that likely goes something along the lines of me being beet red, gasping for air, and repeatedly wondering aloud "what in the world have I done?".

A good part of me wanted to quit. Right then. Right there. Be done. And pour myself of big dirty glass of red sorrow. But a bigger part of me is stubborn. No really, I know you don't believe me, but it's true. And I'd already told my family, my friends, and my co-workers that I was going to do this. I also had a good friend sign up with me after she heard I was doing it. I even had a few sponsors give me money for the almost $5,000+ fundraising component. The fundraising is another story for another time. In any case, turning back wasn't an option. I was way too dedicatd stubborn for that.

I plugged on with the training and gradually began making progress, with big thanks to the Running Room program and my running partner. My next HOLY SH*T moment came when someone at work asked me whether a marathon was 26.2 miles or 26.2 kilometers. I honestly didn't know the answer. No joke. I nonchalantly shrugged it off and said something like I guess I should find that out. Quick research proved there is a big, no huge, no colossal difference between 26.2 miles and 26.2 kilometers. Turned out a marathon was 26.2 miles or 42 freaking kilometers. Who knew?

Still stubborn, I soldiered on. I suffered bruised toenails, foot blisters, sunburns, muscle pain and strain, nausea, and even threw up once mid-run (the late night and greasy breakfast probably instigated that more than the run itself, but still). I wore out sneakers and got my first pair of orthotics. I hit physical and mental blocks. I played mental games to just get through. But somewhere along the trail I also I learned to do more run/walk than walk/run. I completed my first 5km, followed by 10km, followed by 10 miles (or 16km). I ran from St. John's to Mount Pearl and back. I stretched and loved the feeling being finished. I got thinner, but better than that I got stronger and faster. While I never learned love running during those five months of training, I did learn to appreciate it.

Somehow, October 2002 arrived and I found myself sitting in a hotel bar in Dublin drinking my first pint of Guinness to mark the occasion. Then I found myself eating pasta, drinking water and preparing for an early turn-in to get a good night's sleep. Then I found myself standing at the start line with amidst thousands, next to my friend and training buddy. I heard a gun shot and we were off. It was surreal. And awesome. And scary. And even more awesome.

One injured knee, two exhausted legs, and 5 hours 18 minutes later I crossed the finish line. Strangers wrapped me in space-like blankie, passed me a medal, hugged, high-fived, and congratulated me. I found my teammates and we did the same thing all over again. That was it. I was done. I wasn't a speed-demon. I didn't set any records. But I laced up, ran, and finished my first {likely my only} marathon. All 26.2 miles of it.

And in that moment, I was not one to jump on the bandwagon of I must do this again. Nope, I took a cool bath, re-satiated on good Irish carbs, re-hyrdrated on Guinness beer, and literally danced in the streets of Dublin while swearing in my mind I'd never run again. But somehow, two weeks later, back home on the Rock, I found myself lacing up my sneakers and heading out for a run.

And that's where the story of my life changed with the decision to run a marathon. You see, thanks to the freshman 15 plus the several years of 15s after that, I weighed somewhere between 180 and 185 pounds before beginning training. Fortunately I'm tall and managed to carry the weight somewhat well, but was still overweight. I was also not strong or fit. I didn't eat well or with purpose. Not yet unhealthy, I was certainly paving the way down that road. With all of that comes challenges in confidence, social networking, and self-worth. Despite being educated, employed, independent, I felt blah. Only I didn't realize it until after I came home from Ireland.

By then, I had lost about 45 pounds. I built muscle all over. I completed a marathon and raised almost six grand for a charity over the last five months. I felt strong. I felt healthy. I felt confident. I felt empowered. I felt freakin' awesome. I realized that to stay that way I needed to eat well and exercise regularly. So I continued to run and enrolled in a gym. I gradually changed my diet and ate healthier. I began reading health and fitness magazines to teach myself how to keep on keepin' on.

Given `er :)
I know in my heart and soul that had I not {foolishly} decided to tackle the marathon and {stubbornly} tuck it out, I wouldn't be who I am. My health, my fitness levels, my confidence, my personal life, my goals and aspirations would not what they are on this day in 2012. If I had not done it, my story of today would look different. And I am so grateful that is not the case.


Tracy said...

Oh Colleen....I remember the training and the marathon well. You were an awesome running buddy!

Lesley Ann Staples said...

great great story to your new life. thanks for sharing it. now I have to walk to the mail box...that's my goal...lol

Running Orthotics said...

Wow! What a journey! Massive congratulations for completing the marathon and for raising money for such a good cause. Very well done indeed! You're very inspiring.