Yesterday morning I started a training program for the Peachtree Road Race – 10km on July 4th in hot, humid, hilly Atlanta. I’ve completed several 5k races, but this is the first time I’ve put myself out there (and invested a considerable amount for entry and mailing of my race number) for a longer race.
Day 1 of training was a beautiful, perfect spring day along the Chattahoochee – 55F, sunny, no wind. As I crawled along in my slow but steady run-walk pace, I thought about what I was doing – quasi-running – and amazed myself that I’m even doing this because I’ve never been the least bit athletic. It also hit me that when I was younger, say 25 or 30 years ago, people like me would not have been welcome in a race like this. Foot races were for fast people, for thin people in flat running shoes and singlets who took their sport seriously.
Thinking back to when I was in school and in my 20s, I don’t recall we girls being pushed physically. Sure, there were a few girls who were practiced hard at tennis or skiing, but for the most part, sports were recreational and pretty slack. I played in a community rec softball league in high school and it was more about sneaking a beer afterwards than the thrill of rounding third. It was common for girls to look for excuses to miss phys ed classes. When I was 11, I broke my ankle pretty severely and for years I used that as my excuse. As I recovered (a long, slow recovery delayed by my lack of motivation), my parents and teachers didn’t respond with a challenge, push, or “you can beat this” talk.
My parents were wonderful, but they weren’t exactly athletic. They would stroll around the block after dinner, but not much more. Their work, family and church commitments kept them busy. Mom grew up on a farm and ran a mile-and-a-half to school when she was late, but physical activity was a means to an end – transportation or working the farm. Dad played hockey on a backyard rink, and skied in the days when you hitchhiked to Mount Norquay, climbed up the hill (no lifts!), skied down once, then hitchhiked back to the city – an extremely athletic endeavour. But that ended when his “adult” (read: parenthood) life began. We did grow up skiing the Rockies, but that ankle break (actually the result of a fall while skiing, and wearing old lace up boots) made me fearful enough to avoid the moguls on the double black diamonds, and no one encouraged me to get past that.
The bottom line was that we girls weren’t encouraged or pushed or challenged. If you weren’t a natural athlete you sat in the bleachers. If you tried to run and were slow, or had to take a walk break you were off the team and often ridiculed by not just fellow students, but also by the coach. So why bother?
A few years ago I worked with several women who were avid runners and they convinced me to sign up for a learn to run program through a track club. The intent of the program was to motivate the reticent to at least try running. After 10-weeks of training I did complete a 5k, but some nights I was close to tears after a dealing with a coach who didn’t understand that we’re not all cut out to run a 7-minute pace. Worse than that, I was hobbled for many months by wicked shin splits.
About a year later I found a run-walk-run program created by Olympic runner, Jeff Galloway. Jeff’s style of running works perfectly for me. I can run in the morning and feel good (i.e., pain free) for the rest of the day. No more shin splints! Yes, I’m not running for every step of the 5k, and I’m far from a 7-minute pace, but I am running and experiencing that emotional and mental freedom that comes along with a good workout. I believe in it enough that I coached a group last summer. Interestingly enough, everyone in my group was a female about my age … women who are just now ready to challenge themselves and try something new a bit later in life. Would we have seen a program like this in 1969, 1979 or even 1989? Really doubtful …
So as I ran along yesterday morning, I was so grateful not only for this program and the super app on my iPhone, but more than that, I appreciate the shift in attitude where it’s okay to do your best, even if your best will never be anywhere near the fastest. Just because you’re not in contention doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your all, train and be focused. Even if you start training at 50! And those who aren’t in contention have every right to be there, competing against themselves. (Before some fast runner jumps all over me, yes, I start at the very back of the pack, and I also stay to the side so I’m not slowing anyone else down.) I’m all about winners being developed and rewarded, but people, we’re talking about recreational races here – not the Olympics.
I know a lot of Boomers think that everything was better when we were growing up, and today’s generation is soft, but I’ve gotta say, this is one thing that has changed for the better. Let’s be encouraging … we don’t all deserve a medal, but it’s good to let everyone on the field.
Karma bit me in the butt when I was in the throes of gratitude and fantasizing about how I’l massively improve my time on this 10k … hit a rock the wrong way and rolled my ankle (yes, I stumbled but DID NOT FALL!). For a minute I thought I would need a ranger to take me off the trail, but then a little training voice in my head said, “walk it off!” I did, but think this will be a lost week for training.