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In which our hero beings running - if you can't be witty, then at least be bombastic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
kyle cassidy

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In which our hero beings running [Dec. 28th, 2012|01:49 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |lana del rey]

I've never wanted to quit anything as much as I wanted to quit every step of the third mile. It was, I realized, not so much painful as relentlessly uncomfortable. In the way that being wrapped in a wet blanket and stuffed in a 55 gallon drum and left out in the miserable summer sun would seem relentlessly uncomfortable after twenty minutes -- every bit of me wanted to be doing something else. I wanted to stop, and every footfall was a mantra "You can stop this, you're an adult, nobody's watching. You can stop this, now." But I was almost there and some mixture of my OCD and a grim determination wouldn't let me quit until the numbers rolled from 4.99 kilometers to 5.0.

When it was over I leapt up onto the curb of the tread mobile, gasping like a net caught fish. I felt triumphant -- that was the real reward, saying I'd done it. I texted Trillian my time, 33:51. It was November 23rd, and I'd knocked three minutes and nine seconds off of my previous 5k speed and nearly ten minutes off of my first 5k time.

Up until this point, I could never run. I had to run a mile in high school in order to graduate. I did it in 15 minutes and it involved a lot of side holding and collapsing up against hedges while the gym coach yelled what he probably thought were words of encouragement but in reality they were just words that proved to me that my body and I would never be happy together. I wasn't the last one across the finish line. There were two girls behind me who refused to even try and walked the whole way. At the time I admired them for their willingness to fail rather than go through the embarrassing torment; they were at least defiant.

Running was always something that other people did and in my mind it turned into some mythical elite status. People who ran were different from the rest of us. When I started working out in October I'd done well the first few weeks and lost a good bit of weight. I thought I might try jogging to the gym. My thought was if I could jog to and from the gym I'd save all that locker room time. I put on my gym clothes and dashed out the door. I didn't make it a block. All this served to reinforce my thought that other people ran and that I would never be able to do it.

By mid November I was biking a lot more and at higher resistance, I'd gone through seasons 1, 2, and 3 of Magnum pi while toiling away. Then something happened. Trillian wanted to go to Chicago to see a play in January. There was a number, and a place, both far away in the future and I thought maybe I could hang a goal there. I emailed Peter Sagal (who most of you probably know as the host of NPR's Wait! Wait! Don't Tell me!, but he's also a columnist for Runner's World and, since earlier this year in something that I really should blog about, a friend.) and said "Trillian and I are going to be in Chicago in January. If I can run 5k by January 25th, would you race me when I get there?" He emailed back and said he would. And now my OCD, and my highly competitive lizard brain had a goal. To be able to run 5k by January 25, 2013.

I hit the treadmill and it was grueling.

The first time I ran a whole 5k (which is 3.1 miles) it was one of the greatest accomplishments I can remember, because a month before I hadn't been able to run a city block, but it was also agonizing.

I was insufferable at home. "I ran 5k," I told Trillian Stars, "that's a race, like a marathon!" I told her that at least four times that night.

I started to get faster and it … was awful. The first mile got ok, then easy even. The second mile was … a challenge … and the third mile was like being beaten by a biker gang.

But I could run 5k, and now I started thinking of a new goal, I wanted to be able to run 5k in 30 minutes, so I started speeding up, a little bit each day.

I tweeted "There's nothing I want to do more than quit every step of that last mile."

Peter tweeted back "it gets better, I promise."

And that kept me going. Runners, you know, those people who were watching on Facebook or twitter said "you really have to run outside", but I wasn't ready to do that -- when I first started someone at the gym had told me running outside was a lot harder because with the treadmill, all you had do do was lift your feet, the ground moved under you, outside you actually had to push yourself along. How debilitating, I thought. I lived under the dread that my 5k in the gym might mean 2k outside, or maybe worse. I didn't want to go outside and find I couldn't run a mile. You can't give me something like that and take it back. So I decided I'd try and run 6k on the treadmill first. I ran 6k, twice, and it was like being prodded by a daemon with a pitchfork, except the daemon was me going "YOU CAN'T QUIT, YOU LOSER" like a drill instructor. It was completely awful. Every time I saw the numbers on the treadmill cross the finish line I'd leap off the track, gasping and barely able to function. I ran at least 5k nearly ever single day for a month. Sometimes it was less awful than others.

My sister, who's a long distance runner and has been all her life advised me that walking has all the benefits of running but you don't run the risk of injuring your knees or ankles. "Maybe you should consider walking," she suggested. "No," I said, "I feel that I earned running." I worked hard, I wanted to be one of those people, the people who ran.

I decided I was going to try running outside the weekend before Christmas.

I got a track suit from Forman Mills, like one Kim Jong Il would have been happy to wear, downloaded the "Map My Run" onto my iPhone, made a playlist of music, plotted a point 1.5 miles away to run to and back, walked out my front door and when the computer voice on the app said "Begin Workout" I knew I had no excuse to procrastinate any longer.

I started running.

A few minutes later (I was listening to "Fast Girls" by Sarge) the voice popped back on and told me that I'd run one mile in 9:12 -- but something crazy had happened, I didn't feel tired at all, in fact, I felt I had more energy than when I'd walked out the door, this had never happened before. I kept running. I got to the 1.5 mile mark and turned around, still feeling inexplicably good -- despite the fact that I was running up and down hills big ones too. When crested the final hill and saw my front door I felt better than at any point ever on the treadmill, I had energy blasting out of me, wings of angels lifting me up or something -- I had no rational explanation for it but I wasn't going to let it go to waste -- I tagged my door knob, turned around and did the whole three mile loop again. By the time I ran back up my steps like Rocky, I'd run six miles in sixty minutes, farther than I'd ever run, and faster. Plus, I felt great. I bounced around the house, euphoric. The treadmill wasn't making it easier, it had been holding me back -- maybe because it was boring, maybe because it was relentless in it's plodding pace and didn't allow you to quickly run slower or faster, or entertain your brain the the millions of little decisions about jumping over pot holes or accelerating around pedestrians. I don't know. My workout calculator said I'd burned 1150 calories

I ran six miles again the next day, and the next. The day after that I posted to Twitter and two running companions showed up -- we ran 6.35 miles in an hour and three minutes and I was still wanting to do more. It was the exact opposite of the treadmill. After two or three miles I started to feel like I had wings -- like I could just point in some direction and I'd float there, fast -- like in a dream. My brain started planning to train for a ten mile run.

I can't explain it, I'm baffled, but I'm not going to complain.

I started working out because I wasn't happy with the body I was living in. It's been three months and I really like the one I'm making now. Sure, parts of it still jiggle when I run but changing that suddenly doesn't seem like work anymore, it's the thing I want to do because I like doing it.

And at the end of January, I'll be in Chicago and I'll run 5k and Peter will kick my ass because he runs seven minute miles at the end of marathons, but I'll run 5k, maybe by then I'll run nine minute miles, and physically it won't seem like a big deal at all, but mentally it'll be the most important finish line because I realize I wrote a goal in the air and stuck with it and did something that would have been impossible if I hadn't said "I will do what it takes to make this happen," and after that, I realize all other goals in life are exactly the same.

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[User Picture]From: pigshitpoet
2012-12-28 06:59 pm (UTC)

choose to excell

sounds like time for new year resolutions..

watch out for fast girls.

happy new year bucko!

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[User Picture]From: momebie
2012-12-28 07:07 pm (UTC)
Ugh, Universe. Fine. You can stop prodding me. I'll put on my running shoes back on and go try AGAIN.

Which is to say, this is a great post and it makes me feel like maybe I can do it too. Thanks for sharing.
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-28 07:11 pm (UTC)
It was bad before it got good -- and i don't know what made it good, probably building up the strength to do it, but when it got good, it became the best thing. The missing part of "the gym" was finding some exercise that I liked doing. I mostly hated it all but then this just happened. Latch on to whatever it is that you like doing. Good luck!
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[User Picture]From: mystral721
2012-12-28 08:06 pm (UTC)
I go for long walks to get my cardio and I've always found that walking outside is infinitely easier than on a treadmill. You inadvertently trained on the more difficult medium! :)
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[User Picture]From: peloquyn
2012-12-28 08:39 pm (UTC)

Another story...

Kyle - have been following your running joy and I wanted to share my walking joy - only slightly different, but no less thrilling.

Years have gone by where I have had nearly debilitating pain in my legs and feet. I've been through the ringer with doctors and tests and drugs and physical therapy. Come 2012 I am kind of functional but still am having so much pain that it's unreal to me, and the only time I'm really ok is when I'm walking. Doesn't make any sense, since I'd been fighting to even stand up and put one foot in front of the other for so long. But, you know, I went with it. More walking didn't take away the pain (if only!) but the only time it really hurts is when I stop and I thought "I'm going to walk a "real" race!" - so I signed up for the Portland Half Marathon. BATSHIT CRAZY at that point, considering I walked a 30 minute mile. But I had to do something, sitting around my house and/or at the doctors' offices just made me more miserable.

Then I was rocked with a diagnosis I had never seen coming: ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). It's a death sentence of a most heinous sort. My nerves just fizzle and die, for lack of a better explanation. The pain and associated weakness in my legs and feet are the death of my nerves from the bottom up. Eventually I will be unable to control any part of my body - even swallowing and breathing. There's not any great treatment (only one drug has been found to slow progression). However, those three little letters just clicked in my head as "right", all of the crazy shit that my body has done over the past few years makes total sense. Scary, true. But also something that made me more determined to get moving while motion is still an option.

Every day I put my walking shoes on and just went. Started out slow and painfully but eventually got to the point where a 5k was a daily occurrence, in less than an hour even! I kept going even when every fiber of my being that was still functioning told me to just stay home and rest. I cried, I labored, but 342/365 (so far) of 2012 I have spent at least some time walking. I have done an "official" 10k, several 5k races (even one for the ALS chapter near me) and FOUR HALF MARATHONS this year. Portland Marathon was my *last* one, not the first!

I want to just say this: if I can do it, anyone can do it. I am overweight, I am even a smoker (yes, I know). I have a debilitating disease that most people literally curl up and die from. But you know what? That doesn't matter. There will always be excuses and setbacks and days where it's not even remotely possible to get out of bed - but the other days, those precious days where motion is still an option and something I now consider a rare and precious gift, I can hardly wait to get out and at least do my little tour of the neighborhood that garners me 5k a day.

Your excitement is my excitement, I totally get it. I didn't think I'd ever be "that person" that got addicted to working out - but you know what? I really do. Because I still can. Because I *do* see a day when that isn't going to be a possibility. I have walking aids that I use, now, because I've fallen over a few times because of random feet failures - but they are now good friends, because they allow me to keep going.

There's a group here in Portland called "Women Walk the Marathon", and it's party line is "I am an athlete!" and you know what? I AM AN ATHLETE! :)

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[User Picture]From: fluffydescent
2012-12-28 11:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Another story...

OMG! You're an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this. You've just poked me to get back out there and into it!

Keep up the amazing work!
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[User Picture]From: lentower
2012-12-28 09:33 pm (UTC)

  • Why is running outside so good (once you're in shape?)?

    My take is that, as a species, we evolved to run. And using our bodies one of the ways they are designed to be used makes us happy.

  • But we also evolved to live about 35 to 40 years, and our joints, especially the knees, can not be used this way forever.

  • Doesn't sound like you've hit runner's high yet. You can get it with other forms of aerobic exercise.

  • I find the "high" i get during Shavasana, the pose that ends a yoga session, to be better than runner's high.

  • best -len

    Edited at 2012-12-28 09:33 pm (UTC)
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    [User Picture]From: opium
    2012-12-28 10:28 pm (UTC)
    same thing happened to me once i started a fruit-based diet :) if you base it on fruit or starch (like 80%+ of total calories starch/fruit carbs) you will have ENDLESS energy to run.
    also what i noticed is that when i run, if i am barefoot, or if i wear the flat 5-finger shoes, my knees never hurt and i can run further, too :)
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    [User Picture]From: skreidle
    2012-12-30 04:55 am (UTC)
    also what i noticed is that when i run, if i am barefoot, or if i wear the flat 5-finger shoes, my knees never hurt and i can run further, too :)

    Haven't tried it myself, but I've heard a *lot* of that.
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    [User Picture]From: howlokitty
    2012-12-28 11:07 pm (UTC)
    I'm so happy that you're having fun and getting fit! I have not been doing the best job, but last Saturday I went on a date with my dog to the dog park then started up my From Couch to 5K podcast and realized that, even though I hadn't tried in a while, I could still finish the workout I was working on. Considering that the first time I finished a workout I ended up crying in a weird mixture of pride and hatred, I would consider that a good thing.
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    [User Picture]From: kylecassidy
    2012-12-29 01:42 am (UTC)
    Peter was right, it does get better. And then it gets awesome.
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    [User Picture]From: fluffydescent
    2012-12-28 11:40 pm (UTC)
    I started running only a few months ago, and find it's not the body that slows me down, but my head. Reading everyone's comments and your story has inspired me to push harder!

    I have a race to train for!

    7kms here I come!
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    [User Picture]From: spryng
    2012-12-29 12:46 pm (UTC)
    I don't know if you listen to anything, but have you tried listening to an audiobook while you run? Music helps most people get over the constant thinking about running, but audiobooks can help you get a step further away from the discomfort and the head stuff. Especially if it's a really good audiobook.
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    [User Picture]From: schquee
    2012-12-29 12:13 am (UTC)
    This story is very inspirational! Thank you for writing and posting it. :)
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    [User Picture]From: rhino_mittens
    2012-12-29 01:30 am (UTC)
    Ahhh - I wrote almost the same entry almost completely verbatim two years ago. In your writing I feel your excitement and your desire to find out how strong you actually are - I am so excited to read how your journey continues!
    Two years later I have completed 9 half marathons, two marathons and one ultramarathon and am training for a 53 mile race in April '13.
    The only secret is - just don't stop. If you feel good? Keep running.
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    [User Picture]From: kylecassidy
    2012-12-29 01:43 am (UTC)
    sweet barking cheese, that's a lot of miles. congrats!
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    [User Picture]From: alison_chains
    2012-12-29 03:41 am (UTC)
    Kyle thank you for sharing your excitement.
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    [User Picture]From: zoethe
    2012-12-29 04:14 am (UTC)
    I am just starting to run. Like, 13 minute miles. And I have osteoarthritis in my back, so I have to take it really, really slow and build up a very little at a time.

    I'm determined to do an Olympic-length triathlon next summer. And you have further inspired me.
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    [User Picture]From: ronsrants
    2012-12-29 02:24 pm (UTC)
    13 minute miles is fine. I've been running for over 5 years and I'm doing that too. Slow is good as long as you don't stop. :)

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    [User Picture]From: molinaslim
    2012-12-29 10:37 am (UTC)
    I was that girl who walked that dreaded high school mile. This year at age 40 I finally ran a mile straight. Since then I've been trying for 3 for a while now, on a treadmill, and its AWFUL, but I'm determined. Thanks for the story - maybe there is hope for me yet.
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    [User Picture]From: kylecassidy
    2012-12-30 01:04 am (UTC)
    the treadmill was awful ... i really don't want to go back.
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    [User Picture]From: spryng
    2012-12-29 12:44 pm (UTC)
    I'd just like to say this made me cry a little. :) I'm glad you finally got outside. It's just so much more freeing than the treadmill.
    Also: super congrats! May you keep progressing like a boss!
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    [User Picture]From: kylecassidy
    2012-12-31 09:29 pm (UTC)
    oh -- thank you. what a really nice thing to hear. i hope they were victory tears, cause that's what it feels like here. every time the GPS comes on to tell me i've gone another mile i throw my arms up in the air.
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