“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
— Henry Ford
The last few months have been full of change for me—and historically I have not been the greatest with change. My best friend Christina moved away in July and I quit my job the same week. I didn’t plan for things to go quite like that, but I knew in my heart that it was time to quit and the universe gave me an opening. I had another few weeks of work after giving notice, but I was faced with the immediate question of what to do next.
For years I told myself (and everyone I know) that I wanted to get back to graphic design, but I never actually made the move. It was what I’d been planning to do since I was 14—and what I went to school for, but after college I fell into working in reproductive rights and then stayed because I knew it was important work. But after years of just sort of floating along, I realized if I didn’t make a change, I would keep floating away from my dreams.
The thing is making a change is hard.
Once I had told my boss I was quitting there was no turning back; I had set the wheels of change in motion and couldn’t put them in reverse. Luckily I had some vacation to use before my last day, which gave me a few weeks to collect myself without the stress of work or the stress of having just received my last paycheck. During that time I found myself looking for some kind of structure to hold onto and thus, pushed myself to work out even more than I had previously. I worked out every day like it was my job because I no longer had a job. But, at the same time, I was trying to find creative ways to save money on fitness—knowing that my future income was uncertain.
So, naturally, knowing that I’m generally resistant to change, I decided to throw myself off the change cliff and take up running! I figured I’d still be able to lose myself in the one-two rhythm I loved from spinning without spending so much spin class cash. If I could convince myself to like running then I could do it for free outside! Plus it felt like the universe was trying to give me a nudge (or a shove) in that direction.
Around this time, my favorite boxing trainer Jess Sims announced that she was leaving Shadowbox, which removed one of the staples of my weekly routine. Then Robin announced that she would be teaching regular running and bootcamp classes at the Peloton Tread studio. When I found out that Jess would be joining the Tread team too, it felt like too much of a coincidence not to at least try. So I set aside everything I’ve ever believed about myself and went to get fitted for some new running shoes.
I’ve never been a runner, even though I was forced to run laps at team practices for years. I was always the one left behind during our warmup runs and the last to finish the wind sprints on the basketball court. Running for its own sake never seemed like something that was meant for me, but this time I decided to try again with a new determination. Maybe it was because everything already felt uncertain and hard so I had nothing to lose. Or maybe it was because I needed something to focus on other than having to figure out my entire life without Christina a few train stops away or a reliable paycheck. In any case, I decided this time would be different. I would do everything I could to give myself the best chance of success.
The Mental Game
I think my biggest impediment to running was telling myself (and everyone) that I’m not a runner. While that has been true in the past, that doesn’t mean it has to be true in the future. When I was a kid I thought I could play any sport except basketball. I have no idea why, but I had a mental block about it. Then in middle school I was forced to join the school basketball team to get my PE credits. I not only learned, but was part of the starting lineup by the end of my second season. This wasn’t an all star team by any means, but it was proof that I was no longer the worst. And I had done something I never thought I could do.
When I decided to start this running journey, I signed up for Robin’s first regular running class at the Peloton Tread studio. Luckily I had a few weeks of lead time to prepare and try running outside by myself beforehand, but still I was terrified. I was so scared that I almost didn’t even go. I thought I was going to cry during my walk from the train and wanted to turn back. I almost did cry during class. I love Robin, but the class felt horrible. I didn’t think I would make it to the end and I was sure I would trip and fly off the treadmill at any moment. And yet, I still signed up to do it again the following week. Afterward I told her and everyone on Instagram that I was setting a goal to learn to run a mile without stopping, which meant I couldn’t back down.
The Right Shoes
I had an old pair of running shoes, but decided I should set myself up for success by getting fitted for a new pair—especially since I’d be putting a lot of miles on them if this whole experiment worked out. In addition, I made an appointment with a podiatrist. One of the main issues I’ve had with running and sports is that I have very flat feet and they hurt when I try to run. I wanted to be sure that the pain was just my body adjusting to something new and not something more serious. The doctor took a quick look, did some x-rays, and immediately diagnosed me with flat feet (duh). She didn’t see anything truly amiss, so I figured I was clear to proceed—though I did order the custom sports orthotics she recommended.
My biggest fear with running is getting injured. I was trying to start out slowly, but even so, my feet and shins felt like they were on fire. During past lacrosse, soccer, or basketball seasons I’ve ended up getting shin splints, so I was extra nervous. I felt a little silly because I didn’t have a real injury, but I booked a couple sessions with a physical therapist to see if she could help.
After my initial evaluation, she looked at me and said “you have a lot of weakness in your pelvis.” This sounded ominous, but just meant that my glutes and hips were weak. I was surprised because I thought my hundreds of spin classes would have strengthened those muscles, but apparently not. She gave me some exercises to do at home and suggested that I work with a personal trainer. She was convinced that doing so would fix 75% of my problems—especially in my feet and lower legs. The more you know!
I didn’t end up working with a personal trainer because that went against my goal of saving money. I did, however, do a lot of googling about exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes. I tried going to the gym, but was intimidated by the free weights area. There was not another woman in sight and I felt like everyone there could tell I didn’t know what I was doing. I might not have let those fears get to me, except that I actually didn’t know what I was doing. I did a few sets of goblet squats and suitcase lunges and bolted.
At this point I have to say that the only thing I like less than running is strength training. When the PT recommended it, I started questioning my life and my choices. I spent a few weeks wondering if my “why” was strong enough to get me to do not one, but two things I’ve historically hated. I started to question if I even had a purpose in working out at all. I’d fallen into such a strong routine with my spinning and boxing that I didn’t even think about why I was doing it anymore. They had simply become habits—things I did every week without question. But running and strength training were challenging my will.
I was too scared to go back to the gym right away, so I decided to try some exercises at home. I cleared a space for a yoga mat on the floor next to my bed and started doing a combination of exercises from the PT and the internet using a resistance band.
In the last year or so I got over my blanket disdain for yoga and have been going to a Yoga for Athletes class at Yogamaya pretty regularly. But now that I’ve started running, I feel like I have a better understanding of why we do certain poses. The teacher, Bri, is a marathoner, so she’s very focused on strengthening the muscles needed for running (ahem, my weak pelvis) and opening up the areas that tend to get tight as a result of that repetitive motion. Going to class hasn’t necessarily been a change, but I have found myself doing more of the poses on my own at home as well.
I’ve realized that a big misconception about running is that everyone should know how to do it off the bat. It seems logical that if you can walk, you should know how to run—you’re just moving your legs faster! But I’m learning that in order to do it successfully, there is a pretty specific form that you have to learn. I went down a rabbit hole of watching YouTube videos from The Run Experience and Sage Running to learn how to improve my form. I’m still worlds away from having perfect form, but it’s helpful to have some guidelines to aim for other than just moving my legs. I’ve found that focusing on my alignment has helped me get through some hard runs and finish strong.
Trust the Process
So far it has been a few months and I’m still super slow. When I first started I thought I would have either given up by now or I’d be much faster. The journey feels slow, but I’m trying to trust the process—both with the running and in my life. I’m doing something totally new so I have to accept that nothing happens overnight.
In the months of slogging through this journey, I’ve gotten a few short glimpses of the magic. These were times that I hit a high speed on the Tread or a felt strong during an interval in the park and thought “this is why people do this!” Of course, seconds later had to slow down to gasp for air, but it didn’t matter. The week leading up to the New York City Marathon I got swept up in the pre-marathon excitement and decided to do a group run with adidas Runners—the group that Josh runs with four times a week. I was scared—and I was last—but the energy was exciting and pushed me forward.
Watching the marathon that Sunday was inspiring and made me want to keep trying. I didn’t think it would move me as much as it did, but I felt full to the brim with gratitude for everything that has happened since throwing myself off the change cliff. I’ve been reminded of the fear of trying something totally new, but also felt what it’s like to come out the other side. I’ve met so many new people along the way and also realized how many people on the periphery of my life were willing to support me and help guide me in my new career path. All of these small moments make me hope that the struggle will be worth it. And that all of my paranoia about injury and proactively trying to steel myself against it will keep me going long enough to feel the magic for real—for more than a split second.