I wasn’t planning on finishing this story off today, but I’m up at 5:30 am bouncing a fussy baby on my knee and I’m getting really sick of playing “Sushi Cat 2” over at Armor Games, so I figured I might as well. But I’ve gotten tired of writing in a third person narrative, so I’m going to ditch that conceit.
I ended the Part 3 saying I’d become a “Runner,” but while it’s a nice rhetorical flourish, it’s not exactly true. That Revlon Run was a turning point, the moment I began to enjoy running, but I wasn’t exactly a Runner yet; had anyone asked about my hobbies, I never would have replied by saying, “I love to run.” I did not think of myself as a runner, but in retrospect its clear I’d crossed some sort of Event Horizon. I left that day feeling good about myself and good about running: running was no longer merely an act of self-flagellation demanded as a form of penitence for years of pizza, beer, and mentholated cigarettes, but an activity I enjoyed.
The difference was running outside, because when I went back to the gym the next week, running on the treadmill was just as horrible and torturous as I remembered. So I started down the path of being one of those people you see lumbering along the sidewalk, panting and sweating with earbuds trailing out of their ears. Although that 5k had shown me a golden vision of running as pleasure, it wasn’t like every run suddenly transformed into a transcendental experience. On the contrary, most of it was still pretty laborious. Honestly, I don’t remember much of those first few months of “being a runner,” and since I didn’t start keeping a running log until the end of June 29th, 2006, the end of April, May and most of June are lost in the fog of time. I did most of my runs along the edge of High Bridge Park, which was a short jog from our apartment in Washington-Heights, running one mile to the Washington Bridge and back.
Somewhere along the way, I must have started thinking of myself as a Runner and running as something I was going to do on a regular basis for the foreseeable future. For one, I started to get the right gear. Runners like to tout the minimalist simplicity of their hobby (all you need is a pair of shoes and somewhere to run — or if you’re one of the neo-barefoot acolytes, just somewhere to run) but that isn’t really true. You don’t need as much as a cyclist, but most people need at least a decent pair of running shoes, some running shorts, and a running shirt. I remember having to stop to wring out my sweat-soaked cotton t-shirt during runs in June, and then the blissful transition to my first wicking t.
The second step towards making running a long-term hobby was keeping a log of my runs. I don’t think its necessary for one to be a runner, but at some point I decided I wanted to systematically raise my milage, and in order to keep with the suggested 10% increase per week I needed to know how far I’d run each week. It also meant I wanted to measure my growth, to both give myself a goal and a starting point to judge progress by. My first recorded run was on June 29th: 2 miles, 20 minutes. All my first runs were like that — two miles, three miles, a ten minute pace. On July 12th, 2006 I ran 5.7 miles, the longest I’d ever run. Since June 29th, 2006, I’ve recorded every mile I’ve run (3,290 if you’re wondering) and looking back over my high’s and lows, races and recovery runs, improving times and millage and recoveries from injuries, is very instructional. For anyone who is starting out running (or biking, or working out) I highly suggest keeping a log. Looking back over how far you’ve come is inspirational.
Then I ran my first “real” race. The Revlon 5k was a fundraiser walk, but on July 22nd I ran a timed 4-mile race. It was the NYRR “Run For the Park,” (you can actually see my results for the race, and every NYRR race I’ve done, here) and I not only had to pin a race number to my shirt, but put a timing chip on my shoe and line up in a pace coral, surrounded by people who looked much more what I imaged “real runners” looked like. Today it’s funny to think about, since I’ll do 3 or 4 miles before breakfast some days, but I remember being freaked out about the distance and worrying about eating enough calories and carbohydrates to get through such a “long” race. It was the middle of the summer in New York City, and I remember sweating and struggling and feeling horribly slow (it took me almost 40 minutes), but I finished a “real” race and loved it just as much as the last race.
It was official — I was hooked, not on running just as exercise or a means to an end but on running itself, and on running races on top of that. I enjoyed running so much I almost forgot that I started running in order to loose weight and get in shape, but luckily that happened as well. I had been recording my weight for longer than my runs, and the numbers speak for themselves.
March 1st: 220
March 18th: 210
May 6th: 200
June 29th: 190
September 7th: 180
I dropped 40 pounds in 6 month! Running also helped me get rid of those last few cigarettes I’d been unable to shake. People often assume running helped due to the practical effect: you can’t smoke if you want to run, right? But that wasn’t it. Rather, running took the place of smoking, made cigarettes unnecessary. Before I ran, cigarettes were a chemical adrenaline boost on early, unpleasant mornings as well as a relaxant to help me unwind after a stressful day at work. Running does both those things, and I just found myself no longer craving cigarettes; I still wanted them from time to time but found it easier to say no, and then I just stopped wanting them all together.
So I was running three, then four times a week, slowly increasing my millage and speed, shopping for running clothes at athletic stores, and running real road races. Then I completely lost my mind and signed up for a half-marathon . . .