Yes, YOU Are A Runner!

By Susanne Johnson

56.

313.

Two numbers. One that makes me feel exceedingly proud and accomplished. And the other? Well, we’ll get to that.

In 2015, like every year since I was in middle school when I started to see my body spreading out in all sorts of uncomfortable ways – where did these hips and bum and breasts sprout from?! -  I made the New Year’s resolution to “lose weight”. It was a rote January function for me at this point to note this decision in my journal. Something seemed much more dire about the situation this year, though. At 313 pounds I had reached my heaviest weight yet and was becoming increasingly worried about the life of disability I was heading toward.

My future would be fraught with huffing and puffing up the shortest flight of stairs, seat belt extenders on airplanes, squeezing into narrow seats at Broadway shows, the threat of chronic disease, and shapeless, unflattering clothing.

At age 30 I found that, most strikingly, my outside did not at all match my inside. The outside was a successful, intelligent nurse who had just completed her master’s degree to become a Nurse Practitioner. I was confident according to those with whom I interacted. I had a loving family and supportive friends. The inside was a different story, a much darker space. On the inside, I was very small, my voice barely a whisper. It was a dungeon where I was chained to the wall by my overwhelming insecurities.

I committed myself to becoming a “runner” on March 17th of this year. I had been diligently working with a personal trainer for two months and wanted a new challenge, a different way to measure my progress towards the goal of becoming a leaner person. Learning to run seemed like the perfect way to prove to myself that I could do just about anything with persistence and consistency – my trainer’s two favorite words. It would launch me into the world of physical fitness that I so desired to be a part of – a world where I would have a different identity as a happy, healthy, confident, physically fit woman.

I was worried that I wouldn’t stick with my new commitment and wary of bursting out of the gate much too quickly and then losing steam. Afterall, I had gone through several personal trainers, diets, and exercise plans in the past. I had even signed up for the Color Run two years ago only to bail on the event a few weeks before. My excuse? All the flying colored powder would surely exacerbate my asthma. I know, classy, right?

As my feet have never magically sprouted wings, I knew that I would need to ease myself into running. Naturally, I turned to the iTunes app store because is there anything in life that does not have a corresponding app? I liked the layout and structure of 5K Runner (but you might prefer the C25K – Couch to 5K – app. There are at least a dozen or so similar apps available, many of them for free).

I may not be able to run, but I could definitely walk and the program was mostly walking with bursts of running for a minute or so for the first few weeks. I found that I really liked the interval training – it was a sufficient challenge but not so difficult that I felt that I couldn’t continue. I also could easily commit to using the program three days per week. I even repeated certain days until I felt like I had mastered running for a particular length of time. I also liked the cheesy bits of encouragement that come from the app throughout your workout – “you’re doing great!” or “keep going, almost there!” If you hear that kind of positive talk enough, you start believing it yourself and, suddenly, running uninterrupted for 5 minutes seems totally feasible.

Fast-forward three months and I have now completed 56 runs with the 5K Runner program. I am now running outside for 20-25 minutes at a time with my 5K distance goal within sight. I have met such wonderful, kind, and generous people via running.

I especially love the Facebook group RUN215, which is a Philadelphia-based running community that is made up of individuals of all levels and abilities. They were the first people to tell me that I am, indeed, a runner no matter how slowly I go or how new I am to the sport.  I can’t really describe how amazing it feels to be accepted into that world that I had gazed at from afar for so long. It has given me the confidence to try even more new things like workouts with the grassroots group, November Project or long walks with the newly founded Philadelphia Distance Walkers.

I spent 3 days in the Poconos at Camp Bonfire (an awesome summer camp for adults that could be a whole other post) with complete strangers and had a wonderful time playing Capture the Flag, trying out the ropes course, and swimming in the lake in a bikini. Yes, you read that correctly – bikini. I also signed up (again) for my very first 5K run this October – sponsored by WXPN to benefit their Musicians on Call program.

No excuses this time around.

Becoming a “runner” has helped me to become a more disciplined person. I still meet with my trainer weekly to do cross/strength training. I like having a schedule and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from completing a day in my 5K Runner app. I notice that I feel mentally “off” if I go more than 3 days without a run. It has become my time for myself when I let all the thoughts and worries of the day untangle themselves. Then I kick them out to make room for the positive self-talk.

The other day, the female voice in the app chirped “Keep it up! You’re awesome” as I neared the end of a run.

I echoed her sentiments and gave myself a little fist pump – “Why, yes! Yes, I am.”

New to running? Read this. Need an inspiring run group? Click here.