Last March, I wanted to tone up and work out to alleviate stress, so I started walking. On the treadmill in our finished basement, I found myself wanting to walk farther, go faster, and work harder. Only a few days in, I issued myself a challenge: walk at least 3.5 miles every day for four weeks. They say you have to do something for 21 days before it becomes a habit and since I had the time, equipment and the drive, I pushed myself to go for it.
Before too long, I was almost jogging, and then I was jogging. The app Couch to 5K (C25K) helped to cheer me on; giving me updates on distance and pace. I was amazed that I could actually run a mile! Although I ran track in junior high, I have always hated running any distance further than 400 meters.
Quick bursts? Yes. Long distance? No.
I remember running the mile for the Presidential physical fitness test when I was a freshman, thinking, ‘I will never run this stupid thing in under 12 minutes!’ as I huffed and puffed around the track four times, lungs on fire and sweating like a whore in church. Running the 100 meter and relay in the 400 meter in track was easy; my big, muscular, Belgian thighs took me across the finish line in front of everyone I raced, anything further was difficult for me.
So there I was, running on my treadmill in my late thirties, pushing myself to run farther, harder, and actually leaving my 15 year old self in the dust. In an effort to ensure I didn’t lose momentum, I signed up for my first race: the American Cancer Society’s 31st annual Sole Burner 5K. With only four weeks to train, I was working to hit my goal time of 36:00 as well as raising money for a great cause.
I continued to train on my treadmill until Wisconsin finally broke free of our frigid winter temps, then I hit the trail. By the time the day of the race arrived, I was in a groove. I knew I wouldn’t be the first across the finish line, but I also knew I wouldn’t be the last. I was just proud of how far I had come: simply being able to finish the race would be a great achievement and ultimately the most fulfilling reward.
The race was amazing; I ran it with a friend whose father was undergoing chemo for cancer, and together, we ran for all our loved ones who had been diagnosed. I was amazed that we finished the first mile in just 10 minutes, but a short time later, we hit the halfway mark of the race. Hard.
My lungs were screaming, my legs were burning, but I could not bring myself to slow down.
My thoughts jumped to my dear friend Marcia who lost her husband to colon cancer just four months before the race. I thought of my Stepmother, spending her retirement fighting Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. My best friend Ginger who battled through and beat breast cancer, my friend Taryn fighting thyroid cancer, Renee who is routinely monitored through her remission, Jacob who passed away from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and many other friends and family members who have been diagnosed with cancer flooded my thoughts, filled my eyes with tears, and drove me to push on.
As much as I wanted to stop and walk for a while, I pushed myself to run for those who could not.
I ended up finishing the Sole Burner in 34:56 and went on to run another two races last summer with times of 33:18 and 32:27. Improving my time with each race was impressive and by August, I was running 4 miles on our local trail three times a week.
I don’t know if I will ever sign up to run another race, but the fact that I was not only able to push myself to finish a 5K but actually beat my high school mile time was amazing! We often push ourselves to do what needs to be done, however, when we give ourselves a challenge to do something we want to accomplish, it’s a different kind of achievement.
It’s for yourself and no one else.