I've been asked a lot, lately, why I recently decided to start running at 51 years of age. (Most of my friends are supportive - although I know one or two think I'm completely insane.) To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure. I played around with a few theories, but nothing seemed to get to the heart of the matter.
Gradually, though, I've come to realize that my "lightbulb" moment actually came almost two years ago. At that point, I was at the lowest of my lows. I'd had a TERRIBLE couple of years, I was very heavy, depressed, and just generally had lost myself. At that point, we decided to get a second dog as a companion for our first dog, Nia. Enter Rhian, a beautiful sable collie, but one who had some severe anxiety issues which we thought we could remedy with a loving home:
(Before you read on, don't worry - this story does have a happy ending.) Poor little Rhian did NOT adjust well to moving from the breeder's to our home. No matter how much love and attention we gave her, she had bonded inseparably with the breeder's husband; and she was never going to be happy away from him. We'd only had her a week when she slipped her collar and ran away, starting a heartbreaking three day search that ended successfully (thank heaven) an hour before the first snowfall of the winter. (It was the breeder's husband who was finally able to catch her, and she went back to live happily with them.)
Why is this story relevant to my running? Well, on the first evening that Rhian went missing, after we'd been searching for her for a few hours, our next door neighbours (Z and M and their entire extended family) came out to help us. At several points, Rhian was spotted, and we'd have to dive into the bushes with flashlights to try to catch her. On one of these occasions, M said to me, "Give me the flashlight, I'm faster than you." Just a handful of words, not at all said in malice, but they hit me like a ton of bricks.
Never in my life had anyone ever said, "I'm faster than you." For most of my life, it would have been inconceivable. I was the athlete. I was the kid who won every race. I swam like a knife cutting through water, I ran cross country and hurdles, I...had not done any of those things for a very long time. I had lost my identity. With those few words, I realized that I was no longer the person I had always seen myself as.
Those words stuck with me. They still do. Anyone who's a Formula One fan will remember Filipe Massa being told to move aside for his team mate and give up his chance to win the 2010 German Grand Prix with the words "Fernando is faster than you." Can you imagine the gut-wrenching disappointment he must have felt? His identity as a world-class racing driver must have just shattered that day.
That's how I felt, but I knew in my heart that she was right. I took stock and didn't like what I saw. I felt heavy and slow and old. So, I started to take action. I got serious about losing the weight (a work in progress still, but I have made some significant progress) and that made me feel less heavy and slow; but I still wanted more. I wanted to feel like myself again.
Then, tragedy struck, and I lost an uncle who was like a father to me. The worst of it was that I had allowed the miles and the years to come between me and all of my family back in the U.K. and the guilt was overpowering. I decided to go back home for the funeral, not really knowing what kind of a reception I would get. It turns out that it was the best decision I have EVER made. I found out that my family still loves me, and we've stayed closely in touch ever since. For the past year, I have been happier than I have been in decades; and I realize now that it's because that missing piece of my identity was put back in place.
(My cousin, his wife, and my DH and I at the Austin Grand Prix.)
This past year, a young cousin who I first met on that trip (and who I have come to adore) started running; and I realized that this was what I was missing - that feeling of being an athlete. So, a month ago (armed with a LOT of self-doubt about being too old to start this sort of thing) I started running again.
(My cousin, at the right, and her friend after completing her first half marathon.)
At first (after the first, easy week) it was hard...REALLY hard...harder than I would admit. The -30 degree weather didn't help, and my body screamed at me after every run. I would come home and lie in front of the fire or put a heating pad on my thighs to dull the pain. I took Tylenol Night more than once to quiet my aching thighs and back and shoulders enough to sleep. ...but I kept going. I didn't stop; because, if I quit, I would lose my identity forever.
Now, it's a month later, and (although challenging, because I'm increasing my run to walk intervals every week) every run gets easier. I no longer ache and I'm feeling stronger all the time.
My coach told me last week that she was sure I could run a 10K in the fall. Now, I'm actually considering a half marathon in January (in Disney World - there's no way I would run that here in the dead of winter). Best of all, with every run, my confidence grows. I'm faster than most of the people in my running beginners clinic, so I don't feel "slow" anymore; and I've realized that I was NOT too "old" to start this, because I'm doing it.
I find I LOVE the feeling of discipline being "in training" gives me ("I have to be careful of what I eat today, because I'm running this evening." "I'd better get to bed at a reasonable time tonight, because I don't want to be over tired when I run tomorrow."), and I LOVE having set times when I must run with the group (no excuses, I have an obligation to be there for X o'clock). I'm starting to feel like...an athlete.
So, that's my story so far, and it seems to be all about having the courage to take the first step...the courage to see myself as I truly had become and to do something about it; the courage to pick up the phone and say, "I'm coming home"; and the courage to look my friends in the face and say, "I know I'm insane, but I'm running anyway." I didn't realize, two years ago, how "broken" I was; but I'm putting the pieces back. If this story helps one person feel like they can do whatever it takes to get back their identity, or maybe create a new one, I'll feel very blessed.