Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How I became a runner

At my first 5K! 

     I actually didn't start running until around age 21. Ever since, running has been such an important and beneficial part of my life. Here is the story of how I first got into running.

     The summer after I graduated college, I would go to the gym with my friend Alexis just to have something to do. We were basically there for the free air conditioning, television access, and the resulting exercise high.

College, senior year. I think I was taking a photo to show my parents a new haircut.

            I didn’t really have a job yet. I was working for a professor but only half time. Alexis didn’t have a gym pass, so to beat the system, I would slide my card, leave it on the podium, and then she would go on behind me and slide my card again (we were such rebels).

            I feel bad for cheating the system now, but at the time we justified this juvenile indiscretion by the steep tuition costs of the university. And the fact that the gym was practically empty, so letting one person in for free really wasn’t costing the gym anything… but anyways, back to the story.

            This routine worked for a week or two, but a student employee actually noticed the monitor one day as we both swiped in. I had just made it to the elliptical machine and was working up a sweat, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked to my left to see a teenager in a polo uniform mouthing something to me. I took my ear buds out.

            “Excuse me I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

            I was stunned. What had I done? Then I looked to my right and saw my friend on the elliptical next to me. Oh. Yeah. We were cheating the system. I had forgotten. She looked as surprised as me.

            After we let the young employee know that I was the one with the membership, and that my friend was illegally swiped in, we hoped he would take pity on use and let us finish our session. He was unwavering and said I could stay but that she had to go.

            “Why don’t we both just go for a walk?” I said.

            So we walked maybe four miles across the sketchy neighborhood that bordered our school, taking in the myriad of old business that lined the busy streets. Some shops were still open, while others, paint chipped and sun-bleached, had been seemingly deserted for years.

            During that walk, I decided it was much more entertaining to “exercise” while enjoying the world around me, rather than be held-up in a empty gym, moving nowhere on an elliptical machine.

            After this walk, we decided to ditch the gym altogether that summer. Walks turned into runs. There was a trail that looped around the river that made for a beautiful route.

The campus lawn where I would collapse after my first, difficult outdoor jogs. 

            Mid-summer, I was hired by a molecular lab as a technologist. Each nine-hour shift was extremely demanding. There was essentially no downtime. I went from accessioning blood and tissues samples that arrived in the mail, to extracting DNA and performing a range of other molecular tests.

            Lunch was generally delayed until I had been there 6 to 7 hours. We were not allowed to listen to music, and mid-way through my year there, it was decided that we shouldn’t even talk to one another because this might compromise accuracy.

My official work photo/ before I became a "runner" photo
            It was a valuable working experience, overall, but it did add stress to my anxiety-prone mind. To make matters worse, this company was financially in the red, hemorrhaging money. This resulted in negativity from upper management and complaints of being overworked from technologists, all of which would surface at every staff meeting.

            To release my built-up stress, I continued to run after every work shift. The work-stress also created comradery amongst the younger employees, and that spring we ran a 5k together, while wearing homemade tutus.

            I loved how the run forced me to get out of my comfort zone. Also the race was along a trail in a state park, and running up rugged mountains made me feel epic (even though I was dressed as a ballerina).

            Every run since, I have been chasing that epic feeling. Slowly overtime, the distances increased, until I was waking up super early to complete a 20 mile run across the state border and back, to make it home in time for a large pancake breakfast, served by amazing boyfriend Craig, who surprisingly never said he thought I was crazy for wanting to run 4 hours straight on a Sunday morning.

At the start of my first half marathon in 2013; when I became a "runner"