Running is often used as a metaphor for life. It is a metaphor for struggling to overcome obstacles, for digging deep and achieving goals, for perseverance through pain, going the distance. In so many ways, running is far more profound than just putting one foot in front of the other. For every runner, there is a runner’s story and this is mine.
Running was always something I simply could not do. At my heaviest, I could barely walk the length of the shopping mall without swollen ankles and sore feet. Over time, running became the symbol of all the things I “couldn’t” and would never do because of my weight – it represented all my limitations, perceived and actual. The only time running ever entered into my vocabulary was when I would make some insulting fat joke at my own expense: “I only run when chasing the ice cream man.” I would solve world hunger, climb Mt. Everest, find Jimmy Hoffa’s body before I would be able to run. Large, lumbering with a waddling gate, I would have been embarrassed for anyone to see me even try. Yet, as I started to lose weight, I started to feel a tiny flicker — an inkling.
Sitting on my front lawn each year, cocktail and sugary pastry in hand and mired in my unhealthy lifestyle, I watched everyone from elite Kenyan runners to costumed walkers towing ice coolers in red wagons participate in New Orleans’ Crescent City Classic 10k and, in 2009, I thought “someday, I’d like to do that.” So I tried running a few times at a local park, each attempt ending in less than 500 yards and always with me hunched forward, hands on knees, chest heaving, breathing through my mouth, stomach threatening to dislodge my breakfast smoothie into the bushes, discouraged and, again, convinced I couldn’t run. But something in me wouldn’t give up. On an early morning in July 2010, after losing about 55 pounds, I decided to try again. Nervous and jittery, I walked to the park. At the head of the trail, I took a deep breath, put my head down and started running – nice easy pace, watching my own shadow and counting my steps per inhale/per exhale until I zoned out. After a while, I finally looked up from the path and spotted my starting point directly across the lake. I had run halfway around – much father than ever before. Even more amazing, I felt great. I had plenty of gas in the tank to keep going so, I put my head back down and did just that. That Saturday I ran all the way around Big Lake at City Park – three-quarters of a mile. It wasn’t a long run, it certainly wasn’t a fast run; however, when I finished that loop I broke down in tears. Everything had changed. Everything. What was once impossible was suddenly possible and so was everything else. In that moment the switch flipped and running became the symbol of the fact that I could do anything I set my mind to.
I have been running regularly since that day, amassing a collection of t-shirts, medals and personal records. In April 2011 I did what I said I’d do and ran/walked in the Crescent City Classic. In fact, I have participated in that race every year since, setting a huge personal record this past April by running the entire thing. Sure, running is hard and most people think I’m a little crazy – especially when I skip driving and show up to events decked out in running shoes and a few layers of sweat. I freely call myself a runner, despite the fact that some enthusiasts (snobs) would call someone moving at my pace a jogger. I spend more money on running shoes than any other pair of shoes in my closet. I pin inspirational running quotes to my Pinterest board. I keep an extensive calendar of local charity runs on my computer. I get positively giddy at the Crescent City Classic Health & Fitness Expo, shopping for no-slip headbands and Thorlos running socks with my people. I have great runs that make me want to run again tomorrow and the day after. I have difficult runs that leave me wanting to set my running shoes on fire. I have finished races in tears of joy as well as tears of disappointment. All that, I believe, is to be expected – these are the challenges of running and these are the ways running truly is a metaphor for life. Regardless of those ups and downs, I owe the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for blowing the doors open to possibilities. Running, and all the things I believed were out of reach for me, became reachable in just three-quarters of a mile, just 15 minutes. Which begs the question… which 15 minutes will change your life?