Not even 5 days after I left my day job, my work best friend (she calls herself my work spouse) emailed me about running a 5K with her.
She knows I don't run. She, on the other hand, does Bar Method for fun, which has always sounded like torture to me.
I've never liked running. It's why I joined the softball team to get my gym credits in high school — we only had to run 2 laps. And even those were brutal. But with a freelance career staring me in the face, I had several incentives to sign up.
- A date on the calendar to see my friend. Even though I had only just quit, I knew it was possible that I could get lonely in three weeks' time. My dog is great company, but she's more of a strong silent type than an office confidant.
- Something that forces me to exercise. Physical activity is something I've woefully neglected my whole life, but I usually managed to get my steps in unintentionally through commuting. Working from home means that my new commute involves walking to the dog park right behind our house.
- Financial benefits of running. Another excuse I often make is the cost of working out at a gym. With running, you might have to buy nice sneakers and neon running shorts (or if you're me, dorky Payless sneakers and yoga pants). Either way, it's nothing compared to a gym membership. If I could learn to enjoy running, I could save a whole lot.
- Mental health benefits. I'm a firm believer in looking after my own mental health, and yet exercise — a proven mood-booster and treatment for depression — is always the first thing to go. One of the first pieces of freelancing advice I received from a wise designer and friend was:
Social. Physical. Financial. Mental. All important aspects of my health and wellness. I confess that I wasn't thinking of all of these factors when I finally signed up for the race, but once I started training, I was grateful that I had pulled the trigger.
My first few weeks of freelancing began with a run every other day, instead of the extra hour of sleep I had been anticipating. I don't have any fancy fitness devices, but I found that my phone does a good job of tracking steps and miles, so little by little I worked my way up to the 3.1 miles that I knew would be expected of me come March 12.
I've never understood when runners talk about feeling so exhilarated while running, once they've pushed through the "pain barrier." For me, it's usually all pain, no exhilaration. I give up once the pain kicks in and head home.
This time, however, it was different. I knew that if I gave up, I would look pathetic on the race day. Shame is a great motivator.
So is my dog, Gracie. She would take off running ahead of me, and at the end of our first few runs, my "running" was still slower than her brisk gait. Once I had worked up to 3 miles, however, I started to see even her long legs slowing down, and I knew I was making progress.
I ran the 2017 Under Armour KELLY St. Patrick's Day Shamrock 5K race and actually enjoyed it.
Running with a swarm of other people was new to me. My own training assured me that I would finish the race, but I hadn't accounted for the adrenaline that I got just from being surrounded by people. I had something to measure myself against, other people's paces to observe and try to match. I felt competitiveness at first, which mellowed into solidarity around mile 2.
Something I didn't mention earlier was that I actually ran track when I was younger. I don't think it lasted long — I could do the short sprints just fine, but the stress of one relay race really did me in. Letting myself down was fine. The fear of letting down teammates was another thing altogether. So I ran the race and then quit.
That short experience taught me something about myself. Not just that I'm a lousy team player, but also that I really am a Millennial. A quick, exhilarating sprint with immediate results — that's what I want. None of this long distance, no-end-in-sight business.
I'm married to a marathoner. The first time we went running together, I took off pretty quickly. Chris jogged up behind me, assuring me that "slow and steady wins the race" or something like that. I soon tired of the run altogether.
While training on my own this time, I had to employ the slow jog. I set milestones for myself and accomplished them. It was extremely satisfying, even if it was just 1 mile some days. I had made a goal and stuck to it. And I was building up to an even bigger goal.
I remember once reading an article on ways to impress your boss. One of the suggestions was to sign up for a race. "Managers like to see people with goals that they're working toward," the article explained. For some reason, that bubbled up while I was running. Yes, I am a writer and an editor. But I also have a life outside of work that influences the way I work. As my own boss, I have to say I was very impressed with my effort.
I still wouldn't say I enjoy running. But the experience couldn't have come at a better time of my life. I know that if I treat my freelancing business as an 100-meter dash, it'll be a brilliantly short-lived failure. So I'm trying to treat it as a marathon. Easy does it. Even when there are no results at hand, keep on plowing through. With relationships, with skill-building, with blogging. The goal isn't in sight. But I can meet today's goal.
And maybe, just maybe, a free tee-shirt, beer and bacon will be waiting for me at the other end.