For most of my adult life, I thought running was useful only for catching a departing bus. And even then, another bus was bound to come sometime, right? So when my boyfriend, Maurice, signed me up for a “surprise 5K race!” (yup, that happened), you’d think I would’ve left him standing there in his running gear. No worries, there are other fish in the sea, I would’ve told myself on my leisurely walk back to the train.
And yet there I was, excitedly pinning on my racing number to run a terrifying (to me) 3.1 miles in New York City's Riverside Park. How is it that in a few months, I went from abhorring running, finding it about as scary as one of those dreams where you forgot to study for your final exam, to being one of those people who thinks a surprise 5K is an exciting idea for date night?
The thing is, I’ve always enjoyed exercise — just not running. Never running. As a workout-class junkie, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have an underwear drawer full of grippy barre studio socks. Yet open as I was to trying different fitness trends — whether it involved trampolines or aerial downward-facing dogs — running, one of the most basic exercises you can do, scared the crap out of me.
I was always one of the slowest kids in my elementary school’s biannual mile run, huffing and puffing across the finish line, flushed from head to toe. And then there was that episode of Friends where Rachel is embarrassed to be seen running with Phoebe because of her, ahem, “form.” In my adolescent mind, I was Phoebe, always Phoebe, and that anxiety lasted into adulthood. I avoided treadmills (no Barry’s Bootcamp for me!) and laughed and rolled to the other side of the bed whenever Maurice invited me on morning jogs — rationalizing it was boring and painful, but really just worried that I’d be really bad at it and embarrass myself.
I don’t know what made me start questioning my reticence. Maybe it was the smiling joggers who came out of hibernation to race alongside the Hudson River as the weather thawed after a brutal winter; maybe it was the promise (after promise after promise) from Maurice that he wouldn’t laugh at me for my low speed or flailing form — but one day I was feeling antsy, and I wanted to see if I could maybe, sort of survive a light jog.
And I did survive it. It’s not like I was marathon-ready after that first jog or anything (I’m not even sure I could say I liked it at that point), but I did get a tiny glimpse into what it could be like to enjoy running. Here’s how I got from absolutely not to running my first 5K.