ONE STEP AT A TIME – REFLECTIONS OF A RELUCTANT RUNNER

A couple years ago it occurred to me that I should at least attempt to fight genetics, the aging process and all the other inevitabilities life throws our way. At the risk of sounding grim, it’s a battle we’re all destined to lose. If the worst-case scenario, though, is that we feel better and have more energy for however long of a ride we’re granted, then being active seems a worthwhile effort. With that in mind, I quieted my inner cynic and joined a gym. It was a humbling experience, but it had the intended effect. I felt better, slept better, was lighter on my feet, more energetic. 

Then along comes COVID, creating a world of problems with indoor activities that guarantee huffing and puffing air into a common space. I quit the gym and hit Netflix. After indulging my self-pity for a while, I decided I needed to do something. I didn’t know what, but I did know I had stores of anxious energy in my veins. One day my wife wanted a steak and my daughter wanted a mango. “What if I run to get those things?” I answered. But I meant literally. 

I mapped the distance from my front door to the grocery store — 1.5 miles. I could run a 5k, right? That’s a thing people do. And so, I ran the first (and to my mind only) “Stover Sickmen Publix 5k” that day. I didn’t die, so when a friend promoted her virtual 10k, I signed up and ran down South Roosevelt in a tutu. 

My bucket list is a living document, and my affirmative answers have a horrible/wonderful tendency to escalate — a combination that leads to some odd choices. Ultimately, I ended last year by running a half marathon, in the high desert of Utah, in the middle of the night. So naturally, I was hit early this year with a case of the “what’s nexts.” Perhaps not the most creative venture, but a marathon seemed to be next in the logical sequence of events. I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon. Apparently, though, tens of thousands of people want to run 26.2 miles (shocking, right!?) so I wasn’t able to simply register for a spot in the race. But I was able to nab a spot as a fundraiser for Special Olympics. I signed over my credit card number with an agreement to make up any shortfall, started hitting up my friends and started really running.

Let me be clear. I spent my middle and high school years begging my mom for notes to get me out of gym class. I have asthma and creaky knees. I can’t run a block without turning an alarming shade of purple. I apparently have sweat glands in my knees. And yet, I’m doing it. I’m not fast, but I now refer to a three-mile run as an “easy day” and I can run a half-marathon without vomiting. Progress. 

This tells me running really is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. If I can do it, you can do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s relentlessly miserable, but you can do it. 

I’m far from qualified to impart advice, but would suggest a few things to anyone thinking about giving running a try: 

1.) Start where you are, not where you want to be. Walk to the end of your block if that’s what feels good. Next time, run to the end of your block. Walk a mile. Run a bit. Try two. Breathe. Walk when you need to. Walking seems to be the best-kept secret in the running community. Everyone, pay attention here: Runners walk! We walk. We allow ourselves to slow the pace when needed. Take that walking shame and throw it in the garbage. 2.) Remember that in Key West, we’re essentially living on the surface of the sun. If you can run early in the morning or in the evening, do it. But whenever you get out there, never forget water. 3.) You’re the expert when it comes to your own body. Listen to what those creaky knees are telling you. Our bodies talk to us — sometimes they scream obscenities at us, but let’s try not to get to that point. Just tune in to how you feel and make adjustments where needed. 4.) If you spend money on anything, buy good shoes. If you can get fitted, great. If not, order a bunch and try them on. Several companies will even let you wear the shoes for a while and return them if they’re not working. I promise it’s worth the money. $150 can honestly save your back, your knees, your ankles, your feet. Those body parts are worth more than $150. Choose wisely. 5.) Go easy on yourself. Someone once told me to consider the fact that the percentage of people who sign up for a race is already such a tiny slice of the population. You could come in dead last, an hour behind everyone else, and still be miles ahead of everyone who didn’t sign up. If you get out and walk to the end of your block, you’ve done something.

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Erin gets to flex her creative muscle as Artistic Director of the Studios of Key West but has also completed a graduate degree at Harvard, served as a National Park Service Search and Rescue volunteer, visited all 50 states, rescued a 300lb sea turtle, nabbed the title of Key West Ms. Gay Pride, and gotten involved with Special Olympics. She says yes to pretty much everything. Luckily her wife, daughter and crazed terrier put up with this.