It’s basically an obligation of all bloggers to have a page devoted to their “running story”, so here it goes!
I grew up playing team sports (soccer, lacrosse, etc.) but hating running for running’s sake. Why? I don’t know, I guess I get bored easily and I hadn’t yet mastered the art of internal conversation. However, the summer before my junior year of high school my dad signed himself up for a marathon, and since I didn’t have a fall sport at the time and didn’t totally suck at running, I decided I’d give cross country a shot. My father and I have always bonded over my athletic endeavors, and seeing as my ten year old sister sure as hell wasn’t going to strap on a pair of running shoes, I figured I’d humor him. I hated it. Once the initial excitement wore off, it was just sitting around after school for a couple extra hours to get tired and sweaty for nobody. We technically had a coach (the AP calculus teacher who sat around and babysat us while the seniors decided our workouts), but there was nobody there pushing me, nobody teaching me how I should be training, and to all but about six girls on the team, it was mostly a joke. It goes without saying that I didn’t run Senior year.
I got back into running my freshman year of college because for some reason it took UMass until fall of 2009 to open a gym other than the basement weight room that was around when my father went to school there, probably with the same equipment. During that first year, I went to Boyden one time, only to be disgusted by the scent of sweaty pennies and condensation dripping on me from bare pipes running along the ceiling. The smaller “residential wellness centers” in the res halls were nicer, but they were jam-packed with students, and about 35 super-tan, super-blonde coeds elbowing each other in line for four ellipticals. Inevitably, there would always be one emaciated-looking girl who hogged one to herself for an entire hour, completing about 4 miles the entire time and looking ready to pass out at any second. I think you get the picture: it was a fitness free for all and I needed to find a better way.
At first, I’d just run a little circle that, retrospectively, was only about 2 miles. As I got used to it, if I was feeling intense, I’d go about 4. I thought I was pretty hot shit, out there running. At the end of freshman year, I started dating a boy on the track team, acquired a lot of runner friends, and started to push myself to run farther and farther. By sophomore fall, I was taking my running more seriously and had built up to 6 miles by the end of first semester. The new year came, and I made a resolution to run my first half marathon. I found Hal Higdon’s half marathon intermediate training plan, and the inaugural Memorial Day Marathon and signed myself up.
I took my training seriously, and felt giddy with excitement every time I ran farther than I had ever run before. I based my success on having finished my runs without walking (which I did every time out of sheer stubbornness), and whether or not I had fun. I found that running had become a huge source of pride and self confidence, even though I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I would wake up in the morning and walk to class, marveling at the fact that those same legs had carried me 7, 8, 9 miles the day before and I felt great.
When race day came, I hurt. By mile 5, I remember thinking that it was the worst run EVER and I just wanted it to be over. I swore I’d never run a full marathon, and that I wanted to be done with running after that day. I figured I had just overestimated my abilities when I crossed the finish line just over 2 hours, but I was proud that I had finished. Two days later at my annual gynecology check-up, I had my answer: iron deficiency anemia. My numbers were so low that I got about fifteen calls that afternoon from my gyno, my PCP, and my mom. I needed to go out and buy supplements, DON’T MOVE A MUSCLE – NO EXERCISE, I needed to buy a cast iron frying pan, RED MEAT!, no calcium until further notice – gotta absorb all that iron! Truth be told, I was way too low, with a hematocrit of 7, which is actually the number they use as a cutoff for transfusing. You’d think I would have been complaining of headaches or fatigue, but I grew up in a house with two working parents, and when we were sick we’d go to work and do nothing but color on computer paper with black and blue pens – we learned to suck it up. I vowed to get healthy and run again the following year.
I trained hard again, this time adding in a lot of lifting and other forms of activity. I was feeling really strong, but just enjoying my time outside. When Memorial Day weekend came around, my dad drove me to the Berkshires, woke up early with me and brought me to the starting line of the race and snapped some very unflattering pictures with his phone, which I treasure to this day.
I felt great during the race. It was cool, a little misty at first, but comfortable. I was just running along, singing songs in my head (as usual), smiling at nothing, making a few friends…par for the course. At every landmark, I though to myself: I remember wanting to die here last year! I feel so awesome! When I was about 9 miles in, my dad (who had been tracking where I was in the pack as I ran) said to me: “Lauren, this is incredible. You’re in second place. You’re my hero!” WHAT?! I’m second place?? How did that happen?! I felt so amazing. I was happy for myself that I was running so well – I had no clue that I could actually be kind of good at this – but I was more happy for my father. To be able to do something so basic as running and see it make him that proud made me feel something I can’t really describe. But man, I knew I wasn’t about to drop back at all. As it turns out, on the last mile of the course, which happens to be up a killer hill, I overtook the woman in front. I couldn’t believe it. I ran my heart out to the finish, ready to burst with excitement about what had just happened. I won. I had never won anything like that before! Still today, that is one of my top three proudest days of my life.
From that day, I was hooked. I vowed to run a full marathon before the year was out, bought a watch and started keeping closer tabs on my training runs.
I ran my first marathon in October 2011 – the ING Hartford Marathon – and although it hurt like hell, I felt amazing afterward and immediately started looking for another to run before the big move south.
Unfortunately, after training my butt off for the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Marathon Philadelphia, I was diagnosed with bilateral tibial stress fractures just weeks before the race (boooooo) in May 2012.
After the move south, I took a few months to get back to feeling good, and have been running with the Varsity Sports group here. It’s free, the people are awesome, and they actually know what they’re doing. I feel much faster than ever before, so we’ll see if I can prove it on the course – stay tuned!