Somewhere between The Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries, I asked my husband to stop and grab us both some lunch from a food truck within the park. I would be sitting and waiting for him at the perfect spot for a picnic in Paris.
We had just spent the better part of our day touring priceless works of art. My favorite was the sculpture room filled with Greek gods and goddesses that I had just gotten done teaching to my ninth graders. I am sure that my husband was quite sick of hearing my recanting of the myths of Cupid and Psyche, and droning on about how much I love Athena in all of her wisdom in warfare.
I was incredibly vocal about what I loved about the Louvre. What I didn’t tell my husband was that I had the most intense pain in my right knee that I had ever felt.
I wish I could say this was the first time I’d felt this pain. Usually, it happened when I would run for more than twenty minutes. I could physically feel the shift in my momentum the moment the treadmill read 20:00. The fact that my knee was now posing a threat to my enjoyment of my very first European holiday was more than I wanted to deal with.
Nothing was going to stand in my way of touring Paris; not even my bum knee.
While on our flight back to the states, I had a realization that I was only 25, and fighting a losing battle with a weak knee. The athlete in me (that had been silenced for a number of years), wouldn’t let myself settle with a physical weakness. After all, when I was a kid, I was always involved in some sport. Swimming was my sport of choice for the better part of my childhood. Then, when I moved to Jasper, it was just about anything I wanted to try: cheerleading, volleyball, soccer…you name it. I tried track, but I faked a stress fracture to get out of it. Shocking, but, I hated running just to run. There was something truly monotonous about running around the track without the feeling of being challenged. I was just bored.
When I got to college (and outside of college), I tried to stay as active as possible. I would work out; usually cardio circuit of ten minutes on the bike, ten on the treadmill, and ten on the elliptical. The treadmill part was the worst for me. I wanted to run super fast…nothing over 8 minute miles. This usually didn’t last for long.
Working out and staying active has always been important to me. Running has not. It was hard.
When Steven and I landed in Atlanta after our trip to Europe, I got the news that I was being involuntarily transferred to a different school in the district. After ten glorious days touring European castles, I was faced with the reality of it all. I was going to have to transition into a different school with new students and answer to another administration. I was confused, anxious, excited, but still deeply sad to be leaving my first job.
The sadness didn’t sink in until after I had hustled to get some resumes printed for the job fair the following morning. I was in shock, but prepping myself for a day full of interviews.
My eyes were jet-lagged and smeared with concealer as I walked into the job fair. After one interview, I had a new position at Clarkston High School. My new adventure was about to begin.
Ask me now about my year at Clarkston, and I will fondly remember this year as the year that made me into the teacher that I am; the mother that I am; the wife that I am.
Ask me in mid-August about my experience at Clarkston and you would simply see someone sinking without a lifesaver. It was not an easy transition. I was not special or unique as teachers seem to cycle into Clarkston just as swiftly as they leave. I did not feel welcomed by many, as it was dog-eat-dog in the beginning. I saw poverty that I wish did not exist. I saw students who were unloved by their families, but so inherently lovable. I was challenged by my superiors. I was consistently busy fielding e-mails from people who were vested financially in my students’ success. I had meetings every day during every planning period every single week. I was busier than I had ever been. Nothing was similar to my first position. Everything was totally new. I felt scripted. At times, I felt like a substitute teacher in my own classroom out of fear that my creativity was the downfall to my success at Clarkston.
It was about a month in when I realized I was going to have to prove myself. I was going to have to get my wits about me, mute my emotions, and go to war. It was time to channel my inner Athena.
This started with my wellness. I couldn’t just rely on reality TV to heal my broken spirit. I couldn’t just get on the elliptical to heal my bum knee. I had to channel every negative emotion and turn it into something positive. This is where I began to get truly dedicated to running.
Here’s the thing: everyone is fighting battles. My battle was simply growing up and out of my entitlement. No one owed me anything; I had to earn success. My running was a direct metaphor for my growth as a human being. Once I let go of playing the victim, I began to live in victory over my insecurities: realizing that I was much, much stronger than I gave myself credit for. For those of you interested in beginning your own journey, here are ten things that helped me get to my goal of a half marathon and continue to crave my daily miles every single day.
1. Begin where you are. When Steven and I got back from Europe, I started small. My goal was to work out every single day; something was better than nothing. I would alternate Brazil Butt Lift videos (for hip strength to help my knee pain) and time on the treadmill. The treadmill was not a friendly place for me, if you remember, so I started very small. I would warm up with five minutes walking on the treadmill. It was something I knew I could do. Then I would run for two minutes, walk for one minute, and repeat until I hit 25 minutes. I would walk until I hit 30 minutes. I did this until one day I felt like I could warm up at a slower running pace and then do my intervals: run at a faster pace for two minutes, walk for a minute. The most important thing was never get discouraged. If I made it to 1.5 miles I recognized that it was 1.5 miles more than I would’ve done on the couch. The goal was wellness, and being active for at least 30 minutes a day was better than not being active at all.
2. Give yourself a pat on the back. This sounds really odd, but when I started I would give myself verbal affirmations (or think them) while I was running. I would repeat “you can do it,” or “great job.” For whatever reason, when I was saying it out loud, I would start to believe that I could do it. I think back now to those early days and I am so glad that I was the only person in the gym while I ran on that treadmill. If I had to stop, I would just say aloud, “that’s ok.” And it was. There is no running police who is going to arrest you if you stop to walk. Give yourself a break! If you do not enjoy what you are doing, you will not repeat the activity. Period. If you need to walk, walk. If you feel like you can continue, keep going! The best part about running is you always have an opportunity to PR even when you are training.
3. Find some cheerleaders to motivate you. I had a few cheerleaders who were SUPER encouraging throughout my 13.1 training. The first was one of my bridesmaids, AMP. At the time that I began running, she was about to compete in her first marathon. 26.2 miles. I seriously text messaged her during the first week and told her that I completed 2.6 miles in 30 minutes without knee pain. Her encouragement was incredibly genuine: “WAY TO GO, BEK! THAT IS AWESOME!!” She meant it. It felt good to get support from a real runner. She treated me like a real runner. I began to look at myself that way. I added a few to the text message thread: my sister in law who was a tried and true half marathoner at the time (she just competed in the NY marathon!), my other sister-in-law who is ridiculously athletic, and another runner in my small group. Each of these women were women that had been where I wanted to be. They trained hard and loved it. My sister in law ran my first 10K with me and convinced me that I could keep going. After every. single. long. run. I would text them. It started with seven miles, then eight, then nine, then ten, then eleven….and when I finished my half…guess who I texted first? They were my cheerleaders. These women were the first women I texted when I completed my first four miles after I had B bear. They are absolutely invaluable in my training.
You’ll find that TONS of people are dedicated runners. I would talk to a co-worker every day who was a big runner. For some reason, knowing that we would talk about our miles would make me want to complete them. It was like getting into the same TV show…only it helped me burn calories.
4. Find a plan. When I first began my journey to become healthier in the summer of 2012, I didn’t have a plan. My running started to taper off until after I ran my first 5k. Then, I started to seek out a plan in order to keep me on track. At first, I thought I would choose a 20 week plan with the full intention of abandoning it if I didn’t want to go further than a 10k. I started in October and signed up for my first 10K at the end of November. And you know what? I loved it. A lot. What I loved the most about running was that I knew what I was going to do that day. Whether it was four miles or twelve miles, I had something scheduled. It wasn’t like going to the gym and making it up as I went along. I followed this plan and come hell or high water, I followed that plan as best as I could.
Sure, there were days when I was sick, or my knee bothered me again and I had to cross train, but for the most part, I completed every day of that training. It was the most rewarding time because every Saturday I would PR in distance.
5. Sign up for a race. You’ll learn very quickly what type of runner you are. I am a solitary runner. During what seemed to be the most difficult time of my professional life, I had time to channel negative emotions into positive emotions. I craved that time. I yearned for my solo runs throughout Buckhead in the shadow of the winter. I knew that a large half marathon was not for me. Ideally, a small local run was better. My 10K was pretty large (and I now know that course very well…love the Gobble Jog!) . My half marathon was perfect; Tribble Mill Park in Grayson. Trail running with very few marathoners. It was like a large group run. I was so motivated and loved talking with a few seasoned runners who were just there for the love of the sport. Also…once you sign up for a race, you’ve made a large financial commitment. Chances are, you won’t give up because you have a date and can plan your training from that moment.
6. Run outside. This cannot be understated: treadmills are the pits. Also, treadmills do not prepare you for road running. I learned that very quickly running my first 10k. I wasn’t ready to run the hills. I wasn’t sure how to navigate and shift my weight from the balls of my feet to my toes. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t pick up my pace downhill because it will zap your energy for uphills. Also, running outside is much more pleasant than staring at the treadmill TV. I used to go workout with my roommate and watch “The Biggest Loser.” I was supremely motivated…still, there is something healing about being outside: just you and the road. It gives you a moment to clear your mind and focus only on the things that matter.
It wasn’t until I started running outside that I would immediately lace up my shoes the minute I got home from work…especially after a bad day.
7. Smile at everyone you see. Runners are some of the happiest people you’ll meet. You’ll find that if you smile and wave, it gives you an extra spring in your step. I know it sounds trivial, but I cannot tell you the difference that smiling during a workout makes. It gives you endorphins that sitting around cannot give you. A runner’s high isn’t just simply from physical activity, but the realization that we are alive and we are human and that many humans are inherently good. Gives me chills just thinking about it.
8. Focus on the steps that you’re taking at the moment, and the steps that you’ve already completed. Not the steps ahead of you. This was tantamount for me being able to run long distance. If I focused on the fact that I had already completed a mile, and I was currently on mile two, I could celebrate what I had done. If I focused on what I had left (let’s say ten more miles), I would get defeated. Also, refer to #6. Have you ever tried to run longer than 6 miles on a treadmill? The PITS I tell you!
9. Focus on the activity, not the results. Trust me, you’ll quit running before you love it if you focus on what your body looks like. Consider this: remember when you were a kid and your favorite thing to do was run and play? Did you ever check yourself out in the mirror after you ran and played? After you checked yourself out and noticed you were sweaty and dirty and gross, did it stop you from running and playing the next day? No. You ran and played because you wanted to.
If you focus on working to love running, the results will follow. I promise.
10. Count your miles, not your calories. I used to reward myself with a breakfast sandwich (egg whites, cheddar cheese, and an everything bagel) after a long run. Food is meant to be enjoyed, as running is meant to be enjoyable. Food choices became much easier when I thought about the amount of miles it would take for me to burn off the calories in a bag of M&M’s. I found that, even when I chose to eat the bag of M&M’s, I enjoyed food much more when I stopped making it the enemy, and simply focused on good decisions.
These ten simple tricks worked WONDERS for me in the beginning of my journey. Remember, there is a thin line between love and hate…so if you hate running like I once did, it won’t take too long for you to crave those daily miles.