One foot at a time, farther, faster

Thursday evening, I sidled up to two runners midpack in our Fit-Tastic walk-to-run program. (I was in the program last fall, I’m a mentor this year, sharing what insights a year of running has instilled in me.) Both women were pushing it, neither were struggling.

“Like the hills?” I asked. We were trudging up an incline behind Raleigh’s Cameron Village shopping area.

“We’re running longer,” the one got out between breaths. Indeed, last week we’d started by walking for two minutes, jogging one. Today, we were jogging two minutes, walking one. The goal of the 12-week program is to continue to increase the run-to-walk ration until you’re capable of running straight for 30, 35 minutes and completing a 5K.

“You’re doing really well,” I said. Not because I was doing the mentor-as-cheerleader thing, but because they were doing really well. Two weeks ago they were non-runners. Now, they were running for 120 seconds straight.

I asked about their goals for the program. Both were content to let the other go first. After a long silence, I asked, “Do you want to do the target race?” The advertised goal of this — and other walk-to-run programs like it — is a graduation race at the end of the session. In the case of Fit-tastic, it’s the 5K Monster Dash on Halloween. “Are you just looking to establish an exercise routine?”

The latter struck a nerve, not surprising since most in this, the beginner WTR program, don’t do the target race, at least in their first session. Most are just looking for the incentive — the coaching, the peer support — to establish an exercise routine. “I would love to eventually be able to run a 5K,” the one offered with a mix of hope and doubt.

That triggered my cheerleader instinct.

“It will happen,” I said. “Be patient, stick with it and all of a sudden you’ll find yourself running three minutes, five minutes, a mile. The beginning,” I said drawing on experience, “is the most challenging.”

I’ve had two running lives. My first began in the winter of 1977 as a bloated college sophomore. Over Christmas break, I started running. Run/walking, actually. OK, run/waddling for accuracy’s sake. I got a lime green polyester Adidas running suit for Christmas and kept at it. I ran when I got back to school — and this is the curious part — getting up at 7 to run after staying up until 2 a.m. working at the student newspaper and, on occasion, studying. By March I was up to two miles, by May five. Every day. My weight dropped from 200something to 155. For the next few years I ran 10Ks, getting my time down to around (but never under) 40 minutes.

Last year, after a 23-year hiatus precipitated by knee and back problems, I decided to try running again. I enrolled in Fit-tastic with the goal of simply finishing a 5K. At first, I ran a minute, walked two. At some point in the next three weeks, my running genes kicked in and I was running a mile, then two. I upped the ante, setting a new goal: finish in 25 minutes. A couple weeks before the race, I downgraded again, to 24 minutes. I ended up running the 2009 Monster Dash in 22:09.

I kept running, running farther and farther. In April, I did a 12-mile trail run, in May I enrolled in a half-marathon training program. Tomorrow morning at 7 I will join about eight people I know from my group and another 20,000 I don’t know for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon at Virginia Beach. At the beginning of the program, my goal was just to finish the race. Midway into training I realized that, injury and illness willing, I shouldn’t have a problem running 13.1 miles. I set a goal of breaking 2 hours. A week or so ago I downgraded to an hour and 50 minutes.

It hasn’t gotten easier to run farther and farther, it’s just become possible. That it has become possible, that I haven’t succumbed to the spastic back and aching knees that sidelined me at 30, gives me the incentive to keep pushing, to keep going farther. It’s gratifying and it’s what keeps me going. Last year at this time I was running for two minutes, tomorrow I’ll run for, hopefully, just under two hours.

Keep the faith and keeping pushing it, ladies. It will happen.


Recalcitrant iPhone and fickle AT&T permitting, I’ll be Tweeting from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach beginning Saturday afternoon. Follow the action at JoeAGoGo.

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