The SparkPeople Blog

Why I'll Never Be a Runner and That's Okay

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/6/2017  12:00:00 AM   :  35 comments   :  17,224 views

In this industry, the phrase "new year, new you," tends to lose its pizazz right around September, after my inbox has been flooded for a month with PR pitches claiming their product—we swear!—is the one that's going to turn the common promise into a reality. The same tag has been used on this site, as well as countless other health, fitness and wellness websites, and for good reason—it's promising, catchy, optimistic, all the ingredients you need to inspire daydreams about New Year's resolutions.
 
However, whereas I used to find it cutesy, charming even, I now find it to be too vague, too idealistic and too problematic in most instances. The brevity and simplicity of the phrase implies that change occurs with the snap of your well-intentioned fingers, completely disregarding the small steps it takes to actually achieve goals. Experts say it every year, but sweeping your hand over your local gym as you vow to "Get fit" is not nearly as effective as setting a specific goal, such as, "I will go to my Barre class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m." Furthermore, who says the new year is the only time to reinvent yourself? And does it have to be a completely new you? Can you still hold on to the good bits? The implication is that last year you kind of sucked, but this upcoming year you will definitely be better.
 
I prefer to think that last year you maybe had some flaws, but hopefully you were still kind and thoughtful and warm. Last year you might have let an exercise plan fall through, but you still worked and the fact that you're thinking about 2017 you means that you still have drive. This year, let's resolve to focus on the positive, the ways that we work to improve ourselves incrementally everyday, rather than overhauling, overwhelming and over-exhausting ourselves. New year, improved you; new year, determined you; new year, happier you—now, that's better.
 

Sweat: Runner's High? More Like Runner's Cry
 

My loathe-hate relationship with running started around the age of 10, right around the time my fourth-grade softball team started commenting on my short stride, which apparently was incorrect and detrimental to both my speed and stamina, not to mention my pride. The nickname, "S.S. Cappy" didn't stick around for too long, but it has stuck in my head all these years later. I think about it every time I hit two minutes on the treadmill and start feeling winded. I think about it when people talk about their marathon training. I thought about it when some coworkers decided to train together for a half marathon. I thought about it when my boyfriend and I signed up for a mud run with some friends and I worried about them noticing that I'd likely get winded between obstacles, despite being able to conquer the obstacles themselves. I think about it when it's a really nice day outside and I can see the Ohio river from our parking lot and everyone looks so relaxed and happy running across the bridge and maybe, just maybe, I should try to give this running thing a shot again.
 
Here's the thing, though: I've never struggled with being athletic otherwise. I played a variety of sprint-focused sports growing up (volleyball, softball, various dashes in track) and I've always prided myself on being naturally flexible with strong legs. No matter how fit I was back then and no matter how finely tuned I feel today, though, steady state cardio eludes me. In fact, I've more than once been asked if I was a runner based on my physique, to which I have to smirk and just say, "I wish." Because I do. Or, rather, I did.
 
For years, I've beat myself up about not being able to run, thinking it must be something I'm not mentally strong enough to do, not physically built to run. Roughly once a year since high school, on days I feel particularly strong, I lace up, hit the pavement with some empowering tunes playing, only to get to the end of my street or to the top of the first hill completely exhausted. I make deals with myself, "You can stop at the end of this song," "You can stop when you get to that tree," before shortening the deal and compromising. "You can stop at the two-minute mark in this song if you do 50 crunches," or "You can stop when you get to the trash bin in between where you are right now and that tree you were initially aiming for if you do an all-out sprint to get to the aforementioned trash bin." And every time I would take a shortcut or make a deal with myself or come home when I'm 16, sweating and sore, only to have my dad note that I was only gone for 12 minutes, I'd kick myself—right after I finally catch my breath, of course.
 
What's that quote that's probably in a boy band song somewhere? "You always want that which you cannot have." Running has been the Daisy to my Gatsby, always just out of reach no matter how many killer jams accompanied my jog or how great my sneakers might have been. As a result, I started to think it didn't matter that I could finally hold Lord of the Dance pose or that I had upped my sprint speed by four notches on the treadmill. Nope, the fact that I couldn't run a seven-minute mile seemed to be the only thing that mattered.
 
That was until this year. This year, as anyone who read this blog knows, I got more into high-intensity interval training, which led me to start seeking out cardio activities that fit my personal stamina and body type. Maybe I'm not a great runner because I have shorter legs, maybe it's simply because I never learned proper breathing, maybe it's a mental block, but I was in the middle of a challenging 35-minute interval treadmill workout last month when I realized that none of those worries should permeate every aspect of my training. Chances are there is a distance runner who wishes they could perform overhead presses with heavier weights. I've had friends who run marathons who wouldn't be able to touch their toes if a date with Chris Pratt was on the line.
 
As it turns out, everyone has his or her thing. Despite participating in muay Thai for more than a year and a half, sparring is still a skill that Coach Jen Mueller says struggles to improve upon. "My instructor has told me that when I spar, all of my technique goes out the window because I totally panic about hitting and getting hit."
 
For Chris "SparkGuy" Downie, it wasn't until he developed the 10-minute workout program that he finally learned to be consistent in exercise. In college, our digital marketing director Joe Robb says he found it frustrating that, despite rock climbing regularly and building up muscle in the upper body, pullups were near impossible. Reporter Melissa Rudy, a talented runner, still feels like a phony when she steps foot in the weight room. "It's like I'm a little kid playing grown-up or something," she says. "I always feel like people are giggling at me, judging my technique—which is ridiculous, but I can't shake it!"
 
Ask 10 different people and their strengths will likely be 10 different things. Why, then, do we keep comparing ourselves based on those things that we might never be able to comfortably do? This is all not to say that you shouldn't reach for new benchmarks of success. Just because you can't run three miles today doesn't mean you'll never be able to run three miles. (Trust me, I'll continue trying to build my stamina, slowly but surely. My point is simply this: Be gentle on yourself as you pursue your goals. Just because you had running four miles every morning at 6 a.m. in mind doesn't mean that's your only option. Explore a variety of training plans until you find something that your truly love and look forward to sweating to often. Cast aside your expectations that might be based on fit friends or family around you. Remember, they're on their own journey, too.
 
With this new flexible, empowered mindset, you can celebrate the days when you run for five minutes straight at a moderate pace without jumping to the rails, rather than looking at it as a failure because you couldn't complete 10 minutes. In the weight room, focus on the fact that two months ago you couldn't complete 10 bicep curls and now you're doing 12 reps at a higher weight, and ignore the ripped guy next to you who is pumping out reps with 50 pound dumbbells. I might never be a marathon runner, but I can continue to change up my routine, experiment with new paces, challenge my body and push myself to longer sprints.
 
Healthy living is all about finding what works for you, and I for one am finally ready to start embracing my other strengths rather than feeling sorry for myself that I'm not the girl who runs circles around the competition.
 
What is a workout or fitness challenge in which you are especially talented? 

Every month The Go Get It Guide is your destination for motivation, musings on random goals and probably pop culture references. It's a space where we'll sort through the PR pitches and news, then share our honest thoughts on what's happening in the health and fitness world, what's on the horizon and just what we think of that video the internet obsessed over last week. Check in each month to Spark, Sweat, Smile, Savor and Shop with us!

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