I still remember my first run.
I was about 200 lb. I had something to prove; that I was more than that; I was more than 200 lb, more than a rejected, heartbroken fat girl, more than the funny sidekick from the movie where my pretty best friend gets the guy.
Back then, I owned one pair of ‘workout pants’ and one ill-fitting sports bra. I had one cheap pair of running shoes that I had worn maybe once before my first run. I tied them up at 6 am on an idle, unemployed morning in mid-May. I had to drag my soul and will, kicking and screaming out the door that day.
Once the sun is hoist up into the the Edmonton horizon during a hot day and it heats the earth. There’s no reprieve from prairie summers upon daybreak. It was 6 am but blazing. I left home and stepped into an afternoon in July, in a morning in the middle of May.
I was afraid to start running. Once you start running, you’re on a ‘run’. I wasn’t ready to be on a ‘run’ yet.
In high school I had to run. In gym class we would leave the school grounds and head into the foothills of the rocky mountains that surrounded the Jasper townsite. We were expected to keep pace, keep going, leap over tree roots and sail across dewy grass and duck under low-hanging firs as we bolted in a mostly straight but uneven line through trails, down sidewalks, across deserted small town roads. I was at the back of that line carrying my discman, walking most of the way. Running just one block pained my legs and knees and lungs.
Every year in gym class we did a ‘fitness test’ where we would run laps around the gym parimeter while a classmate counted how many laps we could run. I could barely manage 20. Barely 20 in 40 minutes. Any more than 15 was the purest hell, the most unpleasant few minutes of my year. I could hardly run two laps in a row before I could feel my body shutting down and I trudged along the floor dragging heels and struggling not to collapse. At the end of every fitness challenge I was a defeated human being, my body flushed spotty bloated red, my spirit suffering the teenage humiliation of being the fat girl who can’t run.
I thought of the fitness challenge and the ‘running’ unit in high school gym class on my first run. These memories prevented me from starting ‘the run’ whatsoever. I walked two and a half blocks listening to my ‘running’ music before FORCING myself to just begin already. I kicked up my heels and so it began. My first run.
When your run is out of necessecity and not out of the sheer joy of accomplishment, and the indescribable tingle that is “runners’ high”, you don’t focus on the run – the warmth of the sunbeams, the beauty, the foliage, sparkling water, quiet streets that feel as though they belong to you in those early morning hours, and instead you focus on the hideous, ugly reason you’re runing. I focused on those: I was overweight, brokenhearted, a fat failure, a loser, pathetic, lacking will, lacking confidence. Nothing. And I deserved the pain, the horrible pain that came from running. I saw those as motivators then, but I know now that they’re not. You’re so young when you leave on your first run. You scarcely realize how much running helps you grow up.
I made about 3 km on my first run, Just around Saskatchewan Drive and home again. I walked half the way but even running half of that felt to me like the biggest accomplishment. an overcoming, of the darkest demons, if only for a half hour or so. I came home feeling the red, sharp pain I remembered from gym class. But this time, I had chosen to feel tha pain. And that thought itself felt like a step toward toward something that would change my life forever, only a few short months after my first run.
After that first run, I was sore for a week. I could hardly walk. I had to take small steps sideways down flights of stairs. I ached. I never wanted to run again.
But I did run again.