Column by Dan Newman
We had a family thing in July. It was muggy and hot, and I was sweating something fierce. Thing is, no one else was sweating at all. No one had huge wet spots all over their shirts like me, and some of these people were older, in poor health, or bigger than me.
This was my wakeup call.
Never one to candy coat things, the truth was right there, our eyes locked, unwavering. It was my sedentary lifestyle. I was fat, had no cardio and it was about to lead to much worse problems because my body was overcompensating through sweating.
The next step had to be something fitness-y but I didn’t know where to start. I can’t even afford new pants so I was hesitant to take on a monthly gym membership.
The next night at work, three hours left on my shift, it hit me. Running was the answer. Running is free-ish, in that you don’t need anything special to start and there is no monthly fee. You just do it, so I started running that night.
That first night was brutal. I couldn’t run a quarter of a city block. My rest times featured a lot of coughing, heaving, and gasping for air. It was ugly, I was soaked, but I stuck with it. Took me twice as long to get home and I was a mess when I arrived.
But it was very satisfying, strange as that sounds. I had no preparation, no time for research. I just went outside and did it. The next morning was a different story.
Everything hurt. It felt like my back went out all over my body. I swear, my legs creaked like an old floorboard when I got out of bed. It was embarrassing.
The night after, I hit it again. And that turned into three nights a week. Every night I’d run a little farther, be a little less winded, in other words do better, but it was a slow burn. I was getting into it, thinking about my next run instead of daydreaming about supermodels telling I’m awesome while everyone throws money at me. … What?
Then one day I saw a flier for the Eastbay Turkey Trot 5K race. I didn’t even know how long 5K was at the time, but I decided then and there I was going to run it. I pulled out my phone and found out a 5K is 3.1 miles, this one was seven weeks out and I was barely making it a mile. Found a workout plan called couch to 5K, and watched a thousand YouTube videos saying similar things, and I figured I had a shot.
One night, before my 5 week training regimen started, I was really feeling down. Didn’t want to run, but I did anyway. I went out there thinking I couldn’t run a mile and a half. It’s too far, I’m too fat and out of shape. These thoughts were front and center in my head, my body trudging through the midnight air at a 19:56 pace. So what did I do? I ran 1.5 miles that night for the first time.
Got home feeling unbelievable because of how long I’d been scared of that distance. It was my awakening. I was like Neo fighting Agent Smith in that hallway at the end of The Matrix. From that night on, every time I think, “I can’t do that” I just go and do it to prove my doubts wrong.
Soon I couldn’t run 2 miles, 2.5 miles, 3 miles, a full 5K, but I did all of them anyway. When race day came, I knew in my in my mind and body that I could do it. I was prepared because I’d already done it.
Mind you, I’ve never seen a race. Never attended one or know anything about them. No clue what to expect other than 1500 people like me. The closer I got to the starting line, I saw more signs and volunteers and runners decked out in their gear. I parked and started a little jog to the race.
The air buzzed with anticipation and when I saw the starting line, it was nothing more than a sea of human beings. All ages, body types, and everyone there for the single purpose of running this race. It was intoxicating – I have yet to find anyone to run with for normal workouts and now all these people came out of the woodwork and there’s enough of them to populate a rural town.
It was shared experience. There was no question of motive, no expectations. It was fantastic and I sucked it all in. The gunshot signaled the start of the race and it felt like the starting line was taking the biggest dump ever. People just scurrying out and setting their pace. I walked for nearly a block and half before I could run, and when I did I passed all the walkers and it was real. I was finding my spot.
Now, I didn’t run all that far. Maybe three quarters of a mile in the start, but it felt so cool to be there, in that moment, with all those likeminded strangers. After I found my groove, I pretty much fast walked the rest of it. I’d pass some people, lots passed me, but it didn’t matter. It was so interesting, cars flying by two feet from me because we’re all running in the middle of the street.
When I crossed the finish line, there were around 400 people behind me. Did it in like 51 minutes for a 16:11 pace. I am happy with that time, considering, and I’m hooked. 5Ks start up again next year in March, and I’m looking forward to my next one.
That night back in July, when I decided to start running, turned out to be a life-changing event. I’m so happy I followed through all the way. Running a race was another thing I never in a million years would have guessed I’d do. These were things I did on impulse to challenge myself because I never thought I could.
I’m going to keep running for fitness and how it makes me feel. My body is stronger, quicker, and more ready than it’s felt in decades. My muscles are hard and I’m more limber. I walk around feeling like a superhero, and I’m not going to give that up.
But now I’m even more excited to find the next thing I can’t do.
Dan Newman is a freelance writer from Wausau with over 15 years in the game. His focus is on the underprivileged and those society tries to forget. In his free time, Dan enjoys writing, making YouTube videos, and singing to his cats.