The Pack


At the beginning of the summer, I could barely walk up the hill of our 900 hundred foot driveway without stopping to get more air. For most of the spring, I rationalized my 'performance' with the excuse that I had started the year with pneumonia. Knowing that not moving was worsening my lung condition didn't get me off the couch until late night chest pains sent me to the hospital for stress tests.

The long-tern lung infection was to blame for the chest pain, but I knew my deep and gorgeous hunger (as Cary Grant might describe it) and less gorgeous physical sloth were not helping my lungs get any better. So, as I sat in the doctor's office, watching him tap a place on my chart where I had been about 50 pounds lighter, I got to my tipping point.

A few years ago, I had another similar moment of Zen that led to a summer of good nutrition and walking. I let myself get stymied at the end (something I've already moved to prevent this year) by shortening days and a bad attitude, but I remembered that the biggest changes began when I started running. This time around, I decided to start the running with the eating plan, and taking the two roads together has made all the difference, and in a way I never would have expected.

I started very slowly using a plan that had worked three summers earlier (C25K from Runner's World – try it, it works). The plan starts you with 30 second runs followed by 90 second walks and repeats until you've been run/walking for 30-35 minutes. I am not proud to say that at the beginning of the summer, I had trouble making it once around our house or even trotting for 30 seconds. Yesterday (a few days before Labor Day), I ran 3.68 miles with hills and no stopping. Part of me wishes I could say I did it all by myself, but along the way I discovered something even more valuable than my little app. I discovered encouragement.

My first runs were always on our sloping driveway and around our bumpy yard. I was embarrassed to have anyone see how slowly I ran. Then I mentioned my new plan to my sister who's currently getting ready for a 20K. She didn't ask my times. She didn't ask if I thought I could do it. She just gave me a verbal pat on the back and said, “Keep going. I'll get us signed up for the Labor Day 5K.”

We've run the the 5K together before, and, to her credit, she ran with me the first time – giving encouragement the whole way. Then, I was very conscious of the faster runners that seemed to flow around us like gazelles cutting swaths around a slow-moving elephant. Now, I barely notice it.

In the last few months, I've begun to notice more runners on the road. I've seen them in all shapes and sizes. I see slower ones and faster ones. When I'm running, we wave at each other. When I'm driving, sometimes I'll honk or yell, “Go for it!” at them whether the windows are up or down.

They're all doing it, and when I talk with other people I know who've been running or even just started, we never compare times. We talk about going the distance. We talk about how far we've come. The women who've traveled farther share their acquired wisdom with those of us who are at the beginning of the journey. The times matter, but I never feel like I'm competing with someone else – I'm only competing with my old time.

So, if you're running (or walking) on the road, and a strange lady passes you, shouting at you to keep up the good work, she is nuts. But I've decided that if you've started your journey – no matter where you are on it – you are doing good work. And that deserves encouragement, so I'm passing it on.