The latest installment in my training journey...
The only way to accomplish something big is to start out small. Very small.
I decided to take my doctor's advice and start slowly, with 3 mile workouts on the low-impact elliptical machine in our garage. Until recently, this dusty monument to last year's desire for fitness has been the perfect place to hang drying laundry. Now it is the first step to my goal.
After a week of elliptical training, I decided that I was ready for the real thing: a power walk to see if I could clock the same three miles that I had mastered in my garage.
I started out at a brisk pace and soon felt my untrained heart begin to race. But it was a beautiful day and I was already feeling warm and happy by the first corner. I settled into an easy rythmn that matched the music in my IPod. So far so good.
In fact, I started feeling so good that I decided on the next song...
I would start to run.
Just a short spurt of maybe fifty feet. No biggie. A new song began and I took a step. Then:
Immediate and sudden pain on the inside of my right ankle. How can this be? I didn't twist my foot or land awkwardly. I just attempted to run the tiniest of distances and my first step resulted in pain.
I figured it was just the stiffness of a non-runner and made my second mistake of the day: I kept going.
I ignored my doctor's advice to listen to my body and I ran anyway. But not for long. I stopped after about ten seconds, ten measly seconds, and had my first visit with Discouragement.
You can't even run for ten seconds without pain? How are you ever going to run for three miles?"
I focused on the music, ignored my Inner Critic, and started again. I ran in little spurts for the next thirty minutes, stretching out a little longer each time. My body warmed up and my ankle settled down.
I gave myself little goals: just run to the next mailbox, or to the next driveway, or to that fire hydrant a little further down the street.
I felt pretty good when I reached my three mile goal, until my ankle reminded my that I had started running too soon. I limped home, worrying that I may have to stop before I really get started.
You have to walk before you can run.
A few days later, I laced up my shoes and hit the road again: this time with the help of my friend and coach, Cheryl Evans.
We met early on a drizzly morning, halfway between our houses.
"Triathlons go on rain or shine!" She beamed at me with an amount of enthusiasm that should be illegal before 7am.
Cheryl has coached hundreds of kids on Woodbridge High School's cross-country and track teams. I figured if she can take grumpy, uninterested teens and transform them into runners, she can certainly help me.
We talked about the importance of stretching every day and the value of starting slowly. We talked about how strength training and core workouts like Pilates can prepare the body for long distance running.
We talked about our kids.
Cheryl is my friend, and as we power-walked around our hometown, I realized the importance of having a partner in training. Running, biking and swimming can be isolated endeavors, but the journey is easier when you share it with a friend.
By now the drizzle had dried up and the sun had replaced the clouds.I felt warm and active and alive. Woodbridge is a beautiful, planned community that was designed for recreation. Lovely bike and running paths meander though the neighborhoods and circle two lakes.
"Isn't it beautiful out here," Cheryl said as we followed a trail by the water.
"Yes it is," I said, knowing that I wasn't on this path alone.
Two weeks later, I felt I was ready to pick up the pace.
I had been walking regularly, pumping my arms to keep a steady pace, and stretching after every trip. But I was tired of being passed by runners who somehow had mastered this activity.
Maybe I could just take a few baby steps just to test my ankle. So a mile into my three mile walk,
I took off.
Very slowly, at barely more than a walking pace, I experienced a miracle.
No pain. Not even a little twinge. There was absolutely no stiffness in my ankle whatsoever.
I went a little further down the trail, my body adjusting to this new pace. I purposely stayed slow and controlled, not wanting to injure myself with enthusiasm. Surprisingly, I was able to keep going a little further than I had planned. No pain, no need to stop. I may have been chugging along at a snail's pace, but I was officially picking up my feet and running.
I finally stopped about a quarter mile from where I started and looked back at where I'd been.
It wasn't marathon distance or speed, but I had taken a giant leap forward.
At the end of week two, I was rewarded with progress. I still don't know if I'll be able to complete this race, but I know that for at least part of the time,
I'll be able to run.