Generally without fail, every time I lace up and hit the pavement for a race, I ask myself within the first mile… “Why the heck did I sign up for this race, again?” At the finish line, I’m always a better persona for it; I’m happy that I completed the race and learned something along the way. Running has never come easy to me.
But neither did any other fitness- or skill-related activities. I’m not one for coordination, although I try my hardest (pat your belly and rub your nose, right?). When I was in eighth grade, I decided I wanted to go out for a sports team. We had to pick a sport during gym class and sign our name on a piece of paper if we might want to participate in high school. I initially picked field hockey, to which my mom said absolutely not, being as my mouth is the product of several thousand dollars worth of dental work. I went with tennis instead, one of the few non-contact sports.
Fast-forward eight years, with a four-year varsity high school and collegiate tennis careers behind me, I embarked on a journalism career that brought me much success but not so much physical activity. When I started “getting back into shape” after college and several years’ worth of sitting at a desk, one of the first things I did was get a membership to my local aerobics studio. I also attempted to run. Many times. I say ‘attempted’ because I would go for a run, realize how hard it was, not run very far, call it a day and then not run again for an indefinite amount of time.
Eric, my husband, took me for a one-mile run several holidays ago, in 2010. It took me nearly 20 minutes to “run” one mile. I will never forgot how hard each step was, or how much further I thought we ran (I think I quoted us at AT LEAST two miles). Actually, Eric was walking most of the time. I was so upset. Five years later, I find myself in what I consider the best shape of my life, thanks to CrossFit and improved nutrition. [You can read more about this journey in my book.] CrossFit re-introduced running into my life, in much smaller intervals and in a positive way. The most I ran during any WOD (workout of the day) was one mile, maybe two, tops. I decided to run a 5-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving in 2011. I can’t say I was hooked on running, or that I’ve ever had runner’s high, whatever that is. What I know is, I love the feeling of accomplishment. The act of moving my body from point A to point B in an efficient way is a fine art. I’ve grown to respect the art of running.
So for the past four years, I’ve ran. I’ve done WODs at the track, I’ve run to break a sweat, and every once in a while, I even just “go for a run.” Several people I know have run the New York City Marathon. Every year, when marathon time comes around, it’s incredibly exciting. There’s an electricity in the air; the whole city comes out to watch as each athlete goes on a special journey that is all their own. I caught the bug last year and decided to sign up for the New York Road Runners 9+1 program, where if you run nine marathon qualifying races and volunteer at one event, you are guaranteed entry into the following year’s marathon. I qualified during 2014 for this year’s race (2015), and I’m also in the process of doing so this year, for 2016.
Every race challenges me to my core. I work hard on my form to improve my body’s ability to run and my race times. I worry about a myriad of things during races, and sometimes I get down on myself for running “so slow” when I see others whiz by me. (Overhead during a race: “Dammit, I’m going to run faster. I can back squat my own WEIGHT, for crying out loud. These skinny bitches aren’t going to pass me.” Seriously, some chick said that.) I sometimes run with music, most of the time without. I concentrate on the things I can control, I try not to overthink anything or any approach, and I make every effort to stay in the moment and not worry about everything I just mentioned. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
But along with these challenges has come so many positive changes. I’ve become a mentally tougher person, for one. This has been incredibly valuable in every aspect of my life. “If I can run X miles, I can definitely do ‘Fran’ a little faster.” [Fran is a Crossfit workout that containers barbell thrusters and pull-ups. Google it.] And if I can run these races, I tell myself, I know I can keep my chin up during tough times or times of pain. I’ve also become much more aware of my body – the way it works, what causes pain, what feels good, especially during physical activity. I’ve grown to know my physical limits and when they can (and should) be tested.
Today I ran my third Half Marathon, the MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon. 13.2 miles. I can’t even believe that, to be honest. I’m not a runner. I never will be a “runner.” Then why do I keep coming back to the pavement? I love a challenge, and running will always put up its best shot. I also love progress. It’s measurable and observable, and proof that I’ve become a better human being and athlete.
+Grete’s Great Gallop, Central Park course, on 10/5/14 in 2:35
+Staten Island Half, S.I. route, on 10/12/14 in 2:23
+The Women’s Half, Central Park course, on 4/19/15 in 2:27
Today was not my best time ever, but it was a course personal best in about six months’ time. And if you’ve ever run the long loop in Central Park and know about the hill on the north end of the park, then you’ll know it is not an easy course. Not only did I run the first eight miles today in record time, for me, but this the second time I’ve run more than 800 meters since the fall. Literally, it’s the second run I’ve gone on this year.
This is the proof. I know I am stronger – my back squat has gone up about 30 pounds in those same six months. I know I am wiser. I know I’ve grown tougher. While today was discouraging at times, I have to be happy, and I am. Not everyone gets to PR. Not everyone has two capable legs. Not everyone has the mental fortitude to even sign up for 13.1.
I do. That is why I run, plain and simple. #RunLikeAGirl #WomenRunTheWorld