When I was a child from time to time my mom would get up early on a Saturday morning and surprise my family with fluffy, steaming pancakes for breakfast. My brothers and father loved these days, but I hated pancakes. I was envious. I wanted so badly to share in their excitement for this breakfast “treat,” and I was determined. It took me about 25 years to find the right combination of fruit, syrup, and nuts to finally be able to join in with their joy. I love pancakes today, but they’re not the healthiest breakfast choice, and can no longer be enjoyed with the abandon I had as an 8 year old.
As an adult, I felt the same way about running. I used to look at the people in the street with their sweat soaked T-shirts, rosy cheeks and confident smiles thinking, “I want that, too!!!!” They always seemed so peaceful, centered and energized after their multi mile runs, too. So several times a year I’d commit and say, today is the day!
That would last, at best, a week.
It wasn’t until I was 40 years old, the spare tire around my midsection started to develop, and I found myself getting winded on a stage after 20 minutes of high energy R&R (I’m a bass player) that I said to myself, my life is either going downhill from here – or something MUST change.
I committed once more to running.
I did things differently this time, because my ebbing physical condition forced me to. I started slowly, just 2 blocks the first few days. I allowed myself to feel accomplished, despite the fact that I felt I SHOULD be running miles. And the following week I increased my distance to 4. And that’s when I accidentally stumbled upon something that changed everything for me…
I quickly got to the point where I was running between 5 and 10 minutes, but I noticed that that’s when I’d hit a wall. The same wall that always stopped me because the truth would register. Running is torture, and all those smiling idiots I envied were faking it. To go past that amount of time was something I just couldn’t do, physically, mentally, nor even spiritually.
But on one particularly dedicated day I pushed myself. I decided that if I ran 7 minutes AWAY from my house, I’d have no choice but to make the return trip. Even if, physically, I couldn’t run any longer, I’d at least get the exercise of the walk back. And I pushed, and I hated it, and ran for 7 full minutes…
When I stopped, it was by a park. I hobbled over to a bench and instead of sitting as I normally would, I decided I’d use it to stretch, as I’d seen many others doing. I didn’t really know how to stretch, but I knew I had to count to at least 20 in each “stretched” position for it to have any effect. I put my legs, one at time on the bench and stretched my hamstrings, leaned over the bench and stretched my lower back, did a few other simple stretches I began to remember from high school gym class – and then suddenly, I felt inspired to run, as opposed to walk back home!
I slowly started running again, and much to my surprise, went another 10 full minutes! I ran 17 minutes that day, and the run AFTER the first 7 was FAR easier than those first 7. What I learned was that for me, running always felt tortuous because I was basing my experience on my first 10 minutes of running, which WAS torture. I needed to warm up, get my blood flowing, stretch, loosen my tendons and get my body prepared. And it wasn’t until then that I’d be able to enjoy it! With this new prelude to my runs, within 6 months I was running 5 miles, 3 times a week. I no longer hated running.
But honestly, even that wouldn’t have kept me going. It was good to get into a new exercise habit, but 18 years later, there were a few other things I learned, and for me these are equally critical.
1. I need to like where I’m running, or change the scenery up from time to time. I enjoy running by the ocean and I ran most when I lived only a few blocks away. Today it’s worth it for me to drive a few miles to the beach to get the added inspiration. Some like trees and parks better. Some like running in streets. My suggestion is to run lots of different places and see where you feel most energized.
2. I’m not one of those guys who can just walk out my door and start running. I actually prefer the word jogging, and I have to start my “running,” with a ridiculously slow ‘the whole world is going to laugh at me’ type of jog, or trot. My wife giggles when she joins me, because she can walk alongside me jogging without breaking a sweat. I move at this snail’s pace until I feel the blood start flowing. It feels more like a massage on my joints than a pounding. Things begin to loosen up. I don’t lose my breath. And doing this has helped me turn that 7 minute initial warm up into a 10 minute warm up. I allow myself to naturally build speed, stop, do my rest and stretch… and resume running.
Hope all this helps some. It’s the only way I could ever get on board with this pancake, oh… I mean, running thing. Which, by the way, allows me to enjoy those pancakes guilt free!