Everybody who knows me knows I hate running long distances.
That’s not to say I don’t like being fit.
I grew up in a time, in a place, and with a group of peers, who played every sport. If you weren’t good at everything you were good for nothing because from day-to-day nobody knew what we’d decide to play.
As a youngster I played Little League baseball, basketball, track (100m, 200m, long jump), tennis, street hockey (have a half-fake front tooth to show for it), and ‘murican football. (I played organized futbol for 1 year, but didn’t like it. Too much running, probably.)
Until I was about 14 I probably didn’t go a day without picking up a basketball or doing some other physical activity.
But I hated running.
Short distances? I was one of the fastest.
Long distances? One time when our basketball coach told us we’d be running a mile to start practice I said, “Uhh, not me.” And I mostly walked it. When our track coach would ask us to run 400m or do anything I considered a “long” run, I’d coast, knowing that it wasn’t “my” run.
On the basketball court my lungs failed like clockwork. After a few minutes of sprints up and down the court I’d start breathing heavy and have to hang back on defense for a play. “There go his lungs!” The burning was endless.
I told myself I “just didn’t have the lungs” for distance running. I needed breaks.
Lungs weren’t the only problem. Sometime in high school I went to a podiatrist because of an ingrown toenail and he said I had hammer toes. But they weren’t bad enough for surgery yet so I began wearing orthotics.
By the time my 20s rolled around I’d almost entirely stopped playing sports, except pickup basketball here and there. I still worked out (like riding my bike or doing the Insanity program), but I refused to do things I didn’t enjoy.
When I’d see people running I’d think, “Why? What’s the point? You look bored out of your mind and you need that iPod to keep you going. Stop putting yourself through that torture.”
I had a short-lived change of heart in 2010 after I read the book Born To Run and I did a little beach running in Goa, India before hurting my knee. “I’ll rest and try again, maybe.”
A few months later I decided to run a 5k because it was held on a unique date. I’ll always know where I was on 10/10/10 at 10am. (They should’ve stayed on theme and made it 10k, huh?) I barely trained (because training involves running) and finished in 34 minutes, one of the slowest times of that race.
That 5k convinced me I was not a runner. You might be Born To Run, but I’m surely not.
The years passed and I saw friends do crazy stuff like run full marathons without training. Or run 100 miles straight. It was fun to see what people could do, but at the same time, “nope, not for me.”
Finally, back in November — after being inspired by Matt’s book — I started a little Facebook group called, “I hate running, let’s run!” to train for a 5k. With a little support group and the knowledge that I was doing it because I hated it, I went at it.
By the time training for the 5k ended I began to enjoy myself. And I was able to run 5k in around 30 minutes, 4 minutes faster than in 2010. Not great, but not bad.
“Wow, this running thing’s kind of fun!”
“Hmm, I wonder if I can run a bit further.”
I looked around for half or full marathons and found the Reykjavik night half and the Wrocław night half both in mid-June. Being a night person who doesn’t normally go to bed before 2 or 3 in the morning these night half marathons felt perfect.
I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland, but after a few weeks of indecision I registered for the local race.
I followed Matt’s training plan and — although I took 16 days off to travel around Japan in March — it went well. Every Saturday for my long run I’d think, “I can’t do this,” but then I’d do it and it would’t be so bad.
Until the 10 miler. It was pouring rain that night and it wasn’t a particularly fun run. Then during the 11 miler the week after I got the dreaded runner’s black toenail and my feet/legs never fully recovered. Every run after that, even the shorter runs, was painful.
But at that point, with just 2 weeks until the half, I knew I’d reach my goals when the time came to run nearly 21km (13.1 miles). Those goals were simple: 1) Don’t walk. 2) Finish.
And that was that. Race Saturday rolled in and I came in at a leisurely 2:16:01. The last couple kilometers were painful and I couldn’t walk well on Sunday, but I finished. (I drank too much pre-race and had to pee break at the 12km mark, but I never walked so I consider my goals completed.)
I’m thrilled I did it, but with that, my long distance running career is over.*
Even so, you know what?
I don’t hate running, after all.
*Kind of. In a few weeks I’m doing a self-paced sprint distance triathlon. Because I hate swimming too.