As a kid, I had recurring dreams where all I was doing was running; far and fast outside without effort. In those dreams I ran without asthma or allergies to hold me back, slow me down or steal away my breath leaving me panicked and struggling for air. In dream time, I sped along without care and only felt the thump, thump, thump of my heart beating hard in my chest, my legs strong, arms pumping.
In reality, I’ve never been much of a runner. I played a multitude of sports but I never had the aerobic stamina to be on offence for a team or to finish in the top of a class of racers in cross-country. Asthma sidelined me a few times with sudden and frightening onset. I never felt agile and running outside always felt daunting; the next tree, the next bend in the path too far away for me to possibly reach.
So I’m not sure why that at age 39 and 40 pounds overweight I decided consciously that I would “hit my 40s running.”
I meant it more figuratively than literally. I had a bunch of goals sitting on a wish list and in order to start achieving them I needed to resolve some health issues first. That included changing a medication that had caused the majority of the weight gain over the previous decade. I desperately and determinedly wanted to be strong again. I wanted to be healthy and athletic like I had always been growing up and to have the body I saw in the mirror reflect how I thought of myself on the inside.
How much I weighed on a scale was never a huge concern for me. Being strong and fit and knowing that sensation in my body is what I have strived for my whole life. Having a body fit enough to propel me through canoe trips and tough portages with packs, a body to take me up mountains and to be of real use during team work efforts that required lifting, shovelling and carrying in all-weather conditions was important. Having a strong body that meant I could keep up to the group and be seen as capable so that others would want me on their team mattered.
I never cared about being best or first. It was never about being “ripped” or having six-pack abs. I just wanted to belong and be useful. If I accomplished that goal then it meant I was dependable and trustworthy, not a liability.
I was active during the decade of weight gain and couldn’t figure out why I kept piling on the pounds until I finally made the medication connection. Advocating for myself with doctors and convincing them to switch it was a challenge in and of itself. It took a few before I found one who heard me. Once I was on a new med, I discovered that the old regimen had also been making me sluggish and depressed. Yes, I had been active often throughout the week but not at a high intensity.
I can literally remember the day three weeks after I had switched meds when I was sitting on the chesterfield and through the dim sadness that had been dogging me for months, I thought, “I feel like running.”
And so I did.
I had purchased a used treadmill months earlier for my dogs to use on extremely cold winter days when walking outside would be too harsh. I got on it and I could only run for about 30 seconds at a shot and walk for a couple of minutes and try again but it felt good.
I had knee issues and back and neck issues and I’d be able to treadmill a couple of times and then be sidelined for two weeks. I’d do it again and keep trying and I started doing other things like joining my friends on cross-country skiing outings. I couldn’t keep up to them because I was new to the sport and not as fit but I realized that they were just happy to have me along. I started enjoying the activity for the sake of the activity itself and the experience of being in the woods. My friends didn’t care if I came in a few minutes behind them. Catching up to them became a game and by the end of the season I was finishing seconds behind them and loving every kick and glide.
One of my friends who is an avid runner gave me a program called Couch to 5 K in two months. I think it actually took me four months in the end but I did it. I did it on the treadmill because I still didn’t trust that I could run outside even as I recognized that it must be a mental block. If I could run 5 km inside then surely I could outdoors but I still hesitated.
One day I realized the ridiculousness of having to shut my husky pup, who always has energy to burn, in another room while I ran on the treadmill to keep her from trying to jump on it with me when we could just run together outside.
For her benefit, I decided to give running outside a whirl and took the Great Dane too. It wasn’t easy and in the beginning we walked as much as we ran but it was fun with them. We had to learn to work together and having a puppy obsessively leaping after butterflies and tripping you is both irritating and endearing at the same time. It’s definitely not a memory I’d have from running her inside on the treadmill. And, being able to outlast my Great Dane once in a while made my ego swell, I won’t lie!
When the bugs and heat got to be too much I gave up running for water sports and that’s fine. I’ve always been better at playing many things than training or competing in one thing. Then winter came again and with it skiing and snowshoeing.
The day I noticed that the snow and ice were gone from the main road in the park this spring, I could hardly wait to get home and tie on my running shoes. What’s crazy is that, having not run now in many months, I was able to run almost the entire 5 km with just a few seconds walking here and there.
It was also an inspiring and hopeful inaugural run. In spite of my nerves on that first run at the thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to get 100 metres down the road, and with the dogs pulling and jockeying a bit out of control, all three of us quickly fell into pace. I experienced a completely new frame of mind than I’ve ever felt while running outside. There was an almost meditative in-the-moment sensation that I’ve never known before, except in my dreams. I ran without care and only felt the thump, thump, thump of my heart beating hard in my chest, my legs strong, arms pumping.
I’m turning 42 this year and even I’m a bit surprised to be able to confirm that I have hit my 40s running – literally and figuratively – and I can’t wait to see what’s beyond the next tree and bend in the road.