''I Can Finally Call Myself a Runner''

"I only run when chased."

That was my answer anytime I was asked about running, otherwise known as torture disguised as exercise.

The way I saw it, there were only two reasons to run:

1. to catch a bus, plane or train
2. to outrun someone chasing me (This never happened, but I imagined myself screaming, arms flailing, heels breaking and purse flapping on my arm.)

Running made my lungs burn, my shins ache and my body feel like it was being shaken violently. Though I could get through an entire Spinning class or 45 minutes on the elliptical with no problem, I could only manage to run a block or two before giving up.

Still, most of my friends are runners, at least casually. I've greeted friends at the end of marathons, celebrated their success after 10Ks and helped them carbo-load before big races. But I was always happy just supporting them.

Sometime last year, I saved the SparkPeople article You Can Run a Mile Without Stopping. "Maybe someday," I said. "Someday I'll be able to run a mile."

All winter long, I happily took Spinning classes, sweating and pedaling my way across unseen hilled terrain. After months of cold, dark days, an unexpected burst of sunshine one Sunday in February made me reconsider my deep-held aversion to running.

I decided to try running because I was feeling lazy and I don't like to drive. I wanted to hit the gym and go to the pharmacy, but I didn't want to get in the car on such a gorgeous day. So I decided I could walk to a nearby pharmacy instead, but that short walk wouldn't give me very much cardio. I was craving an intense cardio workout without the constraints of the gym walls.

Feeling particularly ambitious, I decided to run to the pharmacy, then walk home with my purchase.

"Yes," I decided. "I'll run. I'm SURE I can run at least the half-mile to the pharmacy."

I set out, heart rate monitor on and iPod stocked with a new, upbeat playlist. I had some cash, a reusable bag in my jacket pocket, and my apartment key. I was ready--but nervous and slightly dreading the impending workout.

"Slow and steady," I reminded myself as I headed out. The wind was lightly blowing, and with the sun shining on me, it was about 65 degrees. The sun felt great, and so did I. After two blocks, my lungs weren't burning, my legs weren't aching, and my mind wasn't giving up on me.

I kept going, past the pharmacy, past the next landmark I set for myself, and past a third landmark. I ran for 20 minutes straight—far more than the mile I'd thought I couldn't run at all!

I cooled down, walked to the pharmacy and then headed home. The sun was still shining, I was smiling, and I thought about whether the weather would hold out so I could run again soon!

Since then, I've run a few more times, usually for about two miles each time. There are no rules about how fast to run or how far you have to go to be a runner. You won't find me training for a marathon any time soon (or probably ever!), but I would like to run a 5K for fun this summer.

As it turns out, running isn't torture disguised as exercise. It's actually fun!