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How to make a lifestyle change (or the story of how I became a runner)

on March 3, 2012

Todd and I at our first 5K together in 2009

I do not have a drastic weight loss story, nor have I overcome a challenging disability or disease. I am also not a very fast runner. In fact, I’m pretty average. And that is exactly why I want to share my story with you: because I think a lot of you can relate.

I grew up in a city. During my childhood years, we lived on the 18th floor of a residence building, right in the center of the city. So while my friends were climbing trees and running around their neighborhood in the suburbs, I was crossing busy streets and learning to use public transportation. As a child, I spent most of my play time indoors, with imaginative play and lots of dolls. Outside the house, our parents filled our time with arts and music: several music lessons and church activities around music, theater and concerts for leisure. I did take swimming lessons for a few years and walked everywhere in the city. That is how I kept physically active.

I am also one of those people who had a terrible experience in Phys. Ed. at school. First, I had this mean, awful PE teacher who humiliated me when I couldn’t make a good pass in volleyball (I don’t even know if that is the right terminology. That’s how badly I was turned off by sports). Then, I had lazy teachers who let me goof or do lazy sit ups during class when I said I wasn’t interested in sports. So, I never considered myself athletic. During summer camps, I read books while my girlfriends played soccer. And during college, I joined a gospel choir while my roommate joined the basketball team. I thought I just wasn’t made for sports.

One time my roommate convinced me to join her for a training run. I decided, after one or two laps around the track, that running wasn’t for me. And I didn’t run again for a long time.

During my second year at seminary, one of our beloved professors (John Claypool) died. The following year, a few students organized a 5K around campus in memory of him (it is now an annual race). I had heard about races of course, but I had only a very vague idea of what it entailed. I signed up for the 5K in order to honor our professor and also to support my friends who organized the race. I was nowhere near a runner then, so I alternated jogging with walking and finished the race in over 40 minutes (I don’t remember the final time). It confirmed to me, once again, that I was not a runner. But I was impressed with the event and the energy of the people there. I had no idea that races could be fun! 

Fast forward a couple of years. With college and seminary years behind me, I was working full-time and spending the evenings at home with my husband. After a long day at work and a long commute home (and with no kids yet), it was easy to stretch out on the couch for the evening and stay there. Todd and I got into a funk and were quickly becoming couch potatoes. One day we decided to change that. We laced up our shoes and went for a run around the block. That first run was humbling. I couldn’t run one mile without stopping, and I was slooow. And all of my energy went into running: nothing seemed natural. But I set a goal: to run for 10 minutes without stopping. So day after day, I went running. And I got better. Soon I could run up to 20 minutes at a time. And that is where my running stayed for a while.

Around this time I also started taking Bikram yoga lessons. If you’re unfamiliar with Bikram, it is an athletic kind of yoga where students perform the same sequence of 26 poses in a heated room. I was out of shape and not very flexible when I took my first Bikram lessons. There were poses I thought I might never be able to do well. But you know what, I got better at that too. Because we repeated the same poses in each class, I was able to see just how well I was progressing. As with running, the progress was concrete, and fast. In fact, I got to where I could do some of the Bikram poses really well. I started to think, maybe I can be athletic. Maybe I am athletic.

Fast forward another couple of years. Todd and I were invited by a friend to participate in a local 5K. It would be Todd’s first, and my first 5K actually running. We weren’t even sure we could run 3 miles since we usually stopped our runs at about 20 minutes. We signed up and went for a 3 mile run before the race, just to see if we could do it (we could). The race was a blast, and we even got medals! I actually got first place in my age group, although that was only because there weren’t many people in my age group. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was hooked.

Winning first place in my age group at my first real race. I was hooked.

After that, I joined a running club and started increasing the length of my runs. And then it happened: I started to see myself as a runner. I actually started to enjoy it. And because I am a runner, I now think about when I am going to run this week. And when I’m on vacation, I think about when and how I might get a run in. Because I’m a runner, you see.

People who have known me for a long time are shocked that I am a runner now. And people who have known me for a short time think I’ve always been a runner. Isn’t that funny? What I have learned is that, making a lifestyle change has everything to do with changing how you see yourself. It works the same with food, for example. Presented with the choice of eating healthy or unhealthy foods, I have a much better chance of choosing the healthy option if I see myself as a healthy eater than if I see myself as an unhealthy eater who should eat better. The decision becomes second nature to our identity.

To sum it up, my friends, here are my tips for making a lifestyle change from a former couch potato:

1) Stick with it

2) Get support

3) Most importantly, reassess how you see yourself. Stop saying you are a junk eater if you want to eat better. You are capable of change. I know because I have changed! So can you!

By the way – if you are encouraged to take up running, I recommend the couch to 5K plan from coolrunning.com. Go for it!

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2 responses to “How to make a lifestyle change (or the story of how I became a runner)

  1. J. Fabulous says:

    Thank you. This entry is really inspiring! It never occurred to me that it was all about how you see yourself….but you are correct, it is all about self perception. I need to start reminding myself that I am a healthy person until it becomes second nature.

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