How I became a runner, one shitty run at a time
I had just run my first 5k.
As I rode the elevator back up to my apartment, I felt flashes of light shoot through my stomach till it burst open on my face as a foolish smile. My life from just a few months ago offered exactly zero ways to make sense of this development.
I was kicked out of tennis classes for failing to make racquet meet ball as a child. I was last to be picked on school teams because I couldn’t send the ball over the net as a teenager. I went on to be fully numb to my body and sensory experiences as a young adult. Yet, I had just run five whole kilometres. Of my own volition. For no reason other than that I could. I was awash with the exhilaration of having outrun my childhood demons with sport.
My next goal was a 10k. It was time, I surmised, to gift myself a fitness tracker!
I unwrapped the box, fired up the device, and put it on. The silicone strap softly held my wrist and ushered me into my new identity. A runner!
In my early days of running with the Fitbit, I had one eye on my wrist all the time. How far had I come? In how many minutes? How can I better pace myself?
I put in the work every day and nourished myself well. I was being “stronger than my excuses”. Mind over matter. But my numbers hit a plateau. My runs felt harder, and my optimism did a vanishing act.
I clocked many shitty runs, before I paused to wonder what was happening.
How was I sleeping? Poorly, like my nocturnal consciousness was convening a board meeting. How was I holding up my body? Stiff and rigid like a sheet of used cardboard. What was I feeling? Solitary and punished, like I was proving a point.
Deep inside me, in a place I didn’t want to acknowledge, my suspicions seemed to be sneaking up on me. Sport was not for me. This was all a lie. I was no runner.
And then, the penny dropped.
My body was trying to run with me, but my mind was running me (and my body) in the opposite direction. I couldn’t outrun my demons because I carried them with me!
The thing about the adage “mind over matter” is that it pretends that one is separate from the other, and that each can overcome the other. For me, mind had colonised matter. Shame had inhabited my body, encased it, and was pushing an embodied life beyond reach.
So I pressed reset. First, I tried to run with my mind. Slower when I felt low, stronger when I felt light. Then, I rewired my mind to work for my body. When I ran five shitty runs in a row, I celebrated that I was on a five-day streak. When I ran my 10K below my goal pace by a quarter hour, I reminded myself how far I’d come in a single year, having never run at all for thirty.
It’s been two years since. The runner in me is thriving.
My body has learned to lead me in runs in tandem with my mind. When I track my runs, I use the data as clues to understand what my mind-body is saying to me. For the most part though, I don’t track my runs.
The essays that are hardest to write only make it because of an abundance of support and love. Eternal gratitude to David, Oscar, Chris and Jon for helping me workshop an earlier, barely recognisable draft of this one.
Hey, thanks for writing back and sorry for replying so late 🙈
Your advise sounds practical, I think I was focussing on intensity a little too much, I recently did 4K in 30 mins, that’s a little improvement but way to go. I’ll think about my goals umm, and I guess substack is not suited for chat lol, I’m at @shivamdwn on twitter :)
Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m a novice runner, noticed by BPM got very high within 10ish min, now taking it slow. Hopefully I will be able to clock 5k within 20ish mins in next few months. Also curious, do you have any running schedule?