This makes what happened this summer all the more bizarre. One time I accompanied my boyfriend on his evening run - not to run myself, but to keep him company on the way there and back. I took my camera and wandered around photographing while he did his 10K. A short while later he returned, eyes glazed over and in a state of thorough depletion, yet so elated that he seemed to be levitating. Seeing him this way, something shifted in my perception of what running was, or could be. And I felt jealous - in an "I want what he's having!" sort of way. Next time I would try running too.
Cautiously excited that I actually wanted to do this, he offered some suggestions when I described the problems I've had in the past. Ankles hurt? Try hard sand or dirt instead of pavement. Lungs hurt? Start ridiculously slow. I replaced my 10 year old sneakers with a new pair of running shoes. And then off we went to the beach.
My first time I ran 3 miles on sand, slow and steady. I expected this to feel like some tremendous feat, but when I finished the loop I realised that I could have kept going. I had none of the symptoms of misery I recalled from previous attempts. My lungs were not coming out of my throat; I had no aches or pains. I felt a tightness in my legs, and I would have been bored out of my mind if it wasn't for the music in my earphones, but that is it.
The next time I ran 4 miles and felt much the same. This time I started slow and then sped up when I felt my energy increase on the return leg. Two days later I ran 5 miles in the same manner. And two days after that, I increased the distance to 7 miles. All of this was on sand - trying to pick a line close to the water, where the stuff is hard packed.
My boyfriend was greatly entertained by my sudden success with this activity I used to hate. He had not expected me to increase distances so quickly. At the same time, he felt I was not getting much fitness training out of the running if I was able to do it this way, my breathing close to normal at the end. He suggested next time I try a shorter distance but make it more intense. So we decided to cut back to 3 miles, but incorporate sprints - bursts of very fast running.
On the day of the evening we had planned to do this, I forgot about it and went on a 35 mile bicycle ride. Then on my way home I remembered, but figured I could still do the run since my bike ride was not all that long or intense and there would be a break of about an hour.
The result was interesting. Starting the run so soon after a bike ride, I felt a distinct shallowness in my reserve-pool of energy. At the same time, stretching out to run felt good as a contrast to my scrunched up position on the bike; it was as if my limbs and torso were unfurling.
While normally we run each at our own pace after the first few minutes, this time my boyfriend accompanied me most of the way to demonstrate sprints. We ran slow to start with, then increased the pace, then ran fast, then back to slow. On the return leg this was repeated more intensely, the fast part replaced with "as fast as you can." After doing this last bit, I had trouble catching my breath even after the final stretch of very slow running. My legs were killing me, my lungs were on fire, my entire body was overheated, and my heart was pounding so fast and so loud it blocked all other sensory input. But I wasn't miserable and I didn't hate it.
What changed this summer to make me not only able to run but actually enjoy it, I don't fully understand. But I do know that cycling the next day felt delightful …if a bit unnervingly easy!