Last April, when I set a goal for myself to run a 5k within a year’s time, I didn’t put a ton of thought into it. I’ve never been good at running, and it would be cool to be better at it. Sure, I was able to walk (and complain through, let us never forget how much I complain) a half marathon, but run it? Hell no. I was always the kid who came in last when the time came to run the dreaded mile in gym class, wheezing my way over the finish line and making Arnold Schwarzenegger weep into his pillow at night over my lack of physical fitness.
I’ve tried and failed before. This time was going to be different. I’d develop one of those easy, self-assured strides, not elicit a single snicker when I go out in public suited head to toe in technical fabric, and should I ever find myself in a Jurassic Park dinosaur escape type situation, I’d be able to do more than shamble a few steps before giving up and bellowing “Jesus, just eat me already, running is worse than death!” After all, I had all of the knowledge of what made me quit in the past, so I’d effectively be able to avoid those pitfalls this time around. First, I reasoned, it would be best to lose a good chunk of weight before I began seriously training, to reduce impact on my joints and avoid injuries. To that end, I’ve lost sixty pounds (and counting). When I’d lost a reasonable amount with still about six months left on the calendar, I started the couch to 5k program, the premise of which is that they can take you from sedentary to fit enough to run for thirty minutes straight in nine weeks. Not outside, where there are both monster hills and soggy weather to contend with, but on a teensy elliptical machine. It’s not the same as actual running, certainly, but close enough for government work, and with the added bonus of less stress on my knees since I’m still preeeettty fat. Good enough to get my heart pounding, my legs working, to sweat buckets. I dutifully did the workouts three times a week, shifting them to avoid holidays that I knew the lazy golem inside of me would use as an excuse to not work out at all. I finished the nine week program in January, and I definitely found it challenging and made progress through those nine weeks, pushing each workout until my legs wobbled when I stopped. My 5k is scheduled for early March, so I felt it was imperative to get out there and run on actual ground, just so if there was any deficit from training on an elliptical instead of outside, I’d have time to train to make it up. So, naturally, it poured out for two weeks straight.
On the only nice day in the immediate forecast, I slapped on my running clothes, took my headphones, and headed to Greenlake Park, a 2.8 mile loop that’s relatively flat. As I drove up, I began to psych myself out a little. Is that how long 2.8 miles is? That lake is huge, I don’t remember it being so large. But I firmly and resolutely told my inner worrier to shut the hell up, that I’d been training and going well beyond 2.8 miles in my practices at home, so this would be no problem. Cake. I began to believe it once I pressed play on my c25k podcast. The familiar cues told me to warm up for five minutes, and when the warmup was done, I was ready to go. I started off great, taking measured, powerful strides. First song down. I’m doing this! I’m doing great!
…Then the second song started, and that’s when my lungs filled up with warm glue, my legs began to burn, and I was forced back into a walk, wheezing audibly. Really?! I’d run, what, half a mile before my body gave out? I felt sick and frustrated. Just how much had I been deluding myself about the progress I’d been making on the elliptical? I blinked back hot tears and choked back my shame barf, not wanting this run to be exactly like high school. Little old ladies ran past me while the podcast continued, congratulating me on running for ten minutes and telling me that I’m doing great. A wave of shame so great rushed over me that I momentarily contemplated drowning myself in the lake, but ultimately decided that even as an abject failure, I had more dignity than to suck a lungful of icy water filled with goose poop in front of a dude sleeping on a bench and a group of fit jogger moms whose strollers cost more than my last car.
At this point, it’s safe to say that there is no way I’ll be ready to run a 5k in five weeks, given my general crapitude and what seems to maybe be some undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma. I don’t even know if there’s a point to showing up if I’m just going to make an ass of myself and get shuffled off the course because I can’t make their pace, and accomplish nothing other than make my wet rattling breaths sound like I’m a member of the undead for days afterward.
Maybe running is one of those things I’m just always going to be naturally terrible at. I guess I’m never going to be one of those easy-breezy people trotting down a trail, sweat free and fabulous. What I can do is glare at them from my hate cave, sweating away on my elliptical. The good news is, should we ever find ourselves in a Jurassic Park dinosaur escape type situation, I’ll go a long way toward filling up those rampaging dino bellies so you can escape. Think of my noble and lazy sacrifice.