I decided to start running eight years ago this month.
On the one hand, it feels like this has always been a part of my life. Then, there are times where I still feel like I'm brand new at this. Perhaps that's why I love the sport so much. On the surface, running seems to be so mindless, so mundane, so...bleeping...REPETITIVE. But, nothing can be further from the truth, at least in my experience.
It wasn't always like this, though.
In fact, I didn't even WANT to be a runner.
So, what made me change my mind?
First, I'll tell you about where I was before I started.
I used to be a cigarette smoker. That's right, friends. Not only did I smoke, I HATED exercise. I grew up in a house with a compulsive dieter (Mom) and learned to associate exercise with punishment. In other words, if you were a few lbs. up on the scale, you had to get on the treadmill or exercise bike while drastically reducing your calories in the hopes that your body would quickly return to "normal". There was the cabbage soup diet, Fibre Trim tablets, and, let us not forget, the grapefruit diet (I get canker sores just THINKING about that one). I played softball and basketball in grammar school, but pretty much abandoned athletics of any kind once I started middle school. Instead, I focused on getting straight A's (don't let the blonde hair fool you). I even competed in spelling bees and won trophies.
Oh yeah, and started smoking cigarettes at the tender age of 12.
After about eight years of puffing away, I decided I had enough of yellow fingers and the annual case of bronchitis. I was dating a non-smoker at the time who, surprisingly, had put no pressure on me whatsoever to quit. I decided it was time to see if I could let this go. I had a couple of lapses here and there, particularly in the first couple of weeks. They say that quitting smoking is as difficult as getting off of heroin. Since I've never shot smack, I can't confirm or deny this theory. However, I will tell you that I missed the hell out of my cigarettes, especially when I drank coffee or drove in my car.
It was hard. But, I did it.
Lots of people who quit smoking end up gaining weight because they use food as a substitute. I already had a shaky relationship with food, considering my history of dieting. I didn't have an eating disorder, per se, but I definitely engaged in disordered eating. It became clear that I needed to find a healthy alternative to the cigarettes that was non-caloric in nature. My friend, Heather, had a great idea.
Ugh. Are you kidding me? The music...the moves...the OUTFITS. Please don't make me go, please don't make me go, please don't...make...me...
Needless to say, I went.
She took me to a low impact aerobics class at an all women's gym. As predicted, I felt like a fish out of water. I did my best to follow along, but I didn't really get all that much out of it. After class, she asked what I thought. I told her that I'm sure it was fun for some people, but I didn't think it was for me. Then she says, "well, there is this new thing out now called "step aerobics" (...which tells you how old I REALLY am....). We can try that next time." I didn't feel overly confident that I would change my mind, but I figured she'd just keep at me until I said yes. This time, she even spent a little bit of time with me beforehand showing me how to do some of the moves. Maybe I wouldn't like this one either, but at least I had an inkling of what to expect.
I took the class. And...I...LOVED it.
I really, really, really did. I became a devotee of step aerobics. And yes, I wore those goofy outfits too. I found one or two instructors that I really liked and did my best to rearrange my schedule JUST so I could attend their classes. Not only did I like it, I discovered something else.
I was good at it. And people noticed, particularly the staff/management at the gym. They recruited me to teach, telling me if I passed the certification class, they would hire me.
About a year later, I did in fact "pass the class" and became certified to teach aerobics classes. I began working there part-time, doing one or two classes a week. My first couple of classes certainly WEREN'T pretty, but I eventually got the hang of it and became a pretty good instructor. Not only was I doing step aerobics, but I was getting PAID to boot!
I was really on to something, here.
At the request of the staff, I learned how to teach low impact aerobics classes too, even though I didn't enjoy them as much as step. Turns out I had a knack for teaching people stuff. Who knew? I branched out a little and auditioned to teach at other gyms in the area. This fitness thing was becoming a fun, little hobby for me, and I wanted more. In 1994, I became a certified personal trainer in addition to being a certified fitness instructor. Now I could teach classes AND train clients one on one.
I learned how to teach cardio kickboxing, boot camp, muscle conditioning, and spinning classes, obtaining multiple certifications along the way. As the years passed, the fitness industry evolved. I did my best to keep up and remain current with all the trends that came along (with the exception of "the slide"...does ANYONE still have one of those???).
In addition to teaching group fitness classes, I discovered WEIGHTS. I added 4-5 days of strength training per week into my schedule. I loved being a gym rat. It was my happy place. I felt strong, fit and healthy for the first time in my life. Since I quit smoking and started to exercise, I lost about 30 lbs. and began to develop a healthier relationship with food. I learned more about nutrition and energy. I learned about metabolism and how to fuel my body properly. Of course I still loved wine and ice cream. But, I made peace with the occasional indulgences, knowing there is a place for them.
I began working at a health club near my house in 2001 as a group exercise director and trainer. I became friendly with one of the instructors/employees there. Her name was Jenn and she was a...runner. Jenn and I would meet up at the gym occasionally to work out together. She mentioned the idea of running to me a couple of times, but I always scoffed at the idea, telling her that I "hated" running. However, she was like a dog with a bone. She wasn't pushy about it, but she certainly wasn't changing the subject either. Every "excuse" I could come up with as to why I couldn't or shouldn't, she had a counter as to why I could or should. She even said she would help me pick out a pair of running shoes.
I ran out of excuses.
Finally, I gave in. Much like I did with my friend, Heather, 10 years earlier, I said yes, knowing that unless I tried it, I'd never know if I was capable or not. If I could quit smoking, I could do this too.
I figured I'd try the treadmill first, alternating intervals of walking and running. Remember, it was November in New England. I wasn't about to go outside in the...cold??? To run???? What are you, CRAZY??? Who does that? Besides, I only had indoor workout gear, so this made the most sense. After all, no one does step aerobics in their driveway, for Pete's sake.
I did the treadmill here and there during the fall and winter months. I was proving to myself that I could do whatever I set my mind to, which was good. But, this running thing? Was it for me?
I still didn't know.
And, I didn't love it.