Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I run

"Hey, I wanted to tell you I'm really proud of you," said my elderly neighbor the day after my half-marathon run. "You've done a great job with your running and your weight loss," he continued. "But I wanted to ask why you are trying to run a marathon?"

"Well, the biggest reason is that we know there are more children and I've got to be healthy and strong enough to be able to handle pregnancy and keep up with all the kids I've got. I also need a goal to keep me motivated."

"Well," he said, "there's two ways to look at fitness, you know. You can train to be fit, or you can try to run a marathon just to say you've run a marathon." He then warned me about pushing too hard and crashing, with the clear message that he thought training for a marathon wasn't very smart.

The conversation ended soon after, but his advice, though a bit unwelcome, made me consider again all the reasons I'm doing this. I don't think ego is one of them (though you're free to disagree if you like!). I've never been particularly impressed by other people's running. I just figured there are some people who can run, and then, well, there's me. I'm not a runner and if you had told me three years ago I would run a half-marathon and then train for a full, I would have laughed in your face. I didn't run then, and I thought it was just something that wasn't really possible for me, much less something I'd enjoy.

And then, two years ago, something changed. I began to run, a little bit at a time until I could run a mile without stopping, then two, and then three. I ran a 5K during the worst part of my last pregnancy and kept running at shorter distances until I was about six months along.

But I still didn't enjoy the running. It was something I was doing for fitness and for exercise, but not because I looked forward to it. In January, with Katie finally sleeping a little better, I knew I needed to do something to get back in shape before the rest of our kids arrive. I planned to run a half marathon on June 11 and began training for a 10K in March (which I wasn't able to run in because my treadmill broke a month before the race).

My reasons for running have changed a lot in the past six months. When I started in January, they were primarily two-fold:
  1. lose weight.
  2. get back in shape.
But as the months have passed and I've continued to run, my goals have started to change. I'm not running primarily for weight loss anymore, though it sure is nice that it's part of the package! About eight weeks into my training for the half marathon, I actually began to enjoy some of my runs. It felt amazing to go a little farther in the long run each week, and from that point on, I never had a long run that I didn't love. Yes, strange as it may seem, "love" and "running" started to together in my mind.

That's not to say I've loved every run. Some have been really tough. I've felt sluggish and slow and weak sometimes. Ironically, it's the shorter runs that give me the most trouble sometimes, and certain times of the month are harder than others. I'll get out for three miles and loathe it, asking myself, "How come it's so hard to go three miles when I went eight (or ten or twelve) miles just last week? Shouldn't this be getting easier?"

But it is getting easier. I avoided hills the first few months of my training, but now, I look forward to tackling them. I used to scoff at the guidelines for running -- you are working at an appropriate level if you can carry on a conversation -- What? Really? Some people can talk and run at the same time? Impossible!

But now, I can do that. I can keep up a conversation throughout both short and long runs. Last week's 10.5 miles was run with a new friend and while we huffed our way a bit through some tough hills, we also had a great two-hour conversation.

I decided as I ran further and further that I would need one more race to keep my motivation up through the summer, so I added the Hobble Creek Half Marathon to my schedule in August.

But still, up until the night I signed up for the St. George marathon lottery, I never really thought I was "marathon" material. I comforted myself with the thought that I probably wouldn't get in anyway, and I panicked a little with the thought that maybe I'd be pregnant by then and not able to run. But DH was supportive and we decided that even if something interfered with the marathon, like an injury or a pregnancy, the worst that could happen is that I'd lose the entry fee. And the best that could happen is that I run a marathon, lose the rest of the weight, and gain all the benefits from the training along the way. Pretty good trade-offs.

So now, if I were to articulate the reasons I'm training for a marathon, they'd go something like this:
  1. Running has taught me some amazing life lessons (blog post to follow).
  2. I think, just maybe, I might love to run.
  3. I know I love to run long distances.
  4. I still have thirty pounds to lose (though I'm down 33 now!)
  5. I'm starting to think that maybe I really can do this.
  6. I love running in races and it doesn't bother me that I'm at the back of the pack -- there's just more people to encourage back there! It feels great to accomplish something and to cheer on all the others who have made an effort to be there.
  7. I'm turning something that was a weakness into a strength, and I'm learning something about myself and my capacities in the process.
  8. I love how great I feel after any run longer than four miles.
  9. I love that I can come home from even a long 10-mile run and carry on the rest of the day as if nothing unusual has happened. It doesn't wear me out or take away from my family.
  10. Raising a large family takes an enormous amount of energy and dedication, just like running a marathon. If I can gain the strength and push through the trials of running to reach my goal, then I'm so much better prepared for the marathon which is my life.
  11. I want to be fit enough so that I can quickly rebound from the challenges of pregnancy, particularly as I get older (I'm 33 now). I want to get strong enough so that it's easy to get back into running after the necessary breaks I will take on behalf of my unborn children.
  12. I want to set a good example of fitness and goal-setting for my kids.
  13. I want to become a life-long runner, with the fitness to play basketball with my teenagers, and the energy to keep up with the possibly-huge number of grandchildren I might enjoy.
(by the way, I don't really run with my arms up high like that -- I was just hamming in front of the camera.)

Ultimately, I don't think running a marathon "just to say I've run a marathon" enters into the equation. I'm going into this prepared to adjust my expectations and my goals if life brings me the unexpected, and I'm being careful to train at a level I can sustain without injury. I know a bit about interrupted goals, and if I get pregnant sooner than I expect, I can either adjust my plans for the marathon or put it off a few years.

So, thanks for the advice, my friend. I understand the risks of pushing too hard and I will be careful. But still, I'm headed for that finish line, even if it doesn't happen on October 1st.


13 comments:

Nanette said...

I remember reading an article I found on the church website once about running. This guy talked about how you don't really start to love running until you're running 20 miles per week. And I thought the same thing you did. People actually love running?? Really?? But I started off like you. Worked up to running a mile, then 2, and then continued up to the half marathon. And it was really true, for me at least. Once I was doing 4-5 miles 4 or 5 times per week, I couldn't WAIT to get outside to run, and I was really bummed when I had to miss my run.
Congratulations on all of your accomplishments and I'm glad you enjoy running now. :)

Angie said...

I'd like to add something else to your list. Sometimes as mothers there isn't a whole lot tangible we can point to that we have done (and that actually stays done). But running is something we can do that boosts the self esteem. Once you've run a marathon, no one can undo that. It will always be something you've done, something you can compare other challenges to, and something you can find in common with people across all different walks of life. I think non-runners don't get how doable a marathon really can be. It's not fanatical really. I was blessed to have a great uncle who ran the St. George Marathon for decades--well into his seventies--I don't know if I'll be like him, but it helps to know that fitness runs in my genes.

Keep it up. You're doing great!

Pam said...

I lost 50 pounds after my fourth child. I owe it to running and circuit training. Since you plan on having more children , I would highly suggest you do some sort of strength training. The stronger your muscles are the stronger your bones are. The place I went was just for women and I just did it for 30 minutes 3 times a week and found that to be more effective than the running at losing the weight. I found out later that muscles burn more calories. Keep up the great work!

Maryanne said...

You're doing something so amazing! I especially am impressed that you can do your long run and then carry on the rest of your day without being exhausted. Did that just come over time? You're inspiring me to set up a plan for after this baby is born-- and I think you're right about running teaching lots of wonderful lessons.

Stephanie said...

Christina,

What a wonderful post and way to go mom! I am so impressed. I have "just" five kids and I feel like I need more energy myself. I started to run and just like you started to love it when your stride kicked in. But then I got sick and couldn't run for about a week and I have not gotten back into it. That's the weird thing for me. I get sick when I exercise! Haven't figured that one out yet. Anyway, love your blog and so impressed that you are raising 8 kids AND running etc. Keep up the good work!

Corine said...

I'm right there with you! And I can't wait to read your future post about what running is teaching you; I'v only been running since March, but I'm amazed at the very cool life lessons running has already blessed me with! And it isn't just running, it was preparing for and running that half marathon... I'm so happy that I did it! :D Good for you for doing it too! BTW. I'm also thinking of running a full marathon now (something that BEFORE I said I had ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN). Amazing what experience can do! :o

Keep up the good work; you rock! ;)

Corine :D

Christina said...

Hi there,

I have a quick question about your site. Would you mind emailing me back when you have a minute @ christinajohnson126@gmail.com

Thank you,
Christina

Ambrosia said...

YAHOO!!!!! Your running pictures almost brought me to tears. WAY TO GO. I love what you wrote. The journey you are on is an amazing one. It is inspiring. Awesome, Christina, awesome. Keep up the great work, Momma. You are doing great.

Stef said...

I am so trying to get into running. I do great on the treadmill (For a starter, that is) but awful when I step outside.
I love your blog! I love big families. So of course I would love your blog!

Laura@livingabigstory said...

I love how you radiate accomplishment ... you are doing a great thing!

Anne Marie said...

Good for you! What a beautiful, sweet goodness you radiate! I'm so proud of all your work.

Cherie said...

You just wrote exactly what happened in my running journey! I was never a runner and then after my last baby I got this 'great idea' to do a triathlon, huh? I loved it though. Yes, it's hard, but it's nice to have the races to be motivated by and give you goals to work towards. I'm hoping to do a marathon next Sep in Roswell as a birthday present to myself. Theoretically baby number 5 will be here in early Nov, I'll start racing triathlon in April, then hope to get in a Ragnar or two with friends and hit a marathon before the following Nov (our pattern lately has been that in the month or month following our last baby's first birthday we've been able to get pregnant, hopefully that continues!) Anyway, growing families need an energy filled mom and exercise and determination to finish these races really does speak a lot to our children... And it certainly doesn't hurt that our husbands 'get to keep' their wives! the way I see it is that he and I will be together always and forever whether in this life or the next, so he deserves a wife who cares how she looks for him cause he's gonna be looking at me for a long time! :-). Happy running!

Jennifer said...

Love this post...I especially love the photographs. Your expressions are priceless. You have a beautiful family!

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