On Running: When A Turtle Soars

Posted on July 2, 2011


I ran the Helen Keller Festival 5-Mile Run last Saturday (June 25, 2011). I finished 138th out of 183 runners. I’ve always been a turtle, even in my youngest running days.

I ran in my first Helen Keller Festival Run back in the early 1980s. I don’t recall the distance in the early years, but it’s been a 5-mile run for a while now. I missed quite a few years from the mid-90s until I made my return appearance last year (2010). It’s a great run because downtown Tuscumbia is mostly flat and filled with historic homes and buildings. There’s always a good crowd of participants and the community camaraderie is a extra plus.

I’m one of those people who needs to run regularly in order to stay in shape for running. I can walk or hike all day, but to run for any distance I need to keep at it. When it’s cool, I don’t need to run long distances regularly in order to run an occasional long one. But in the spring, summer and early fall, the heat and humidity mean that I need to run 3-4 times per week, at a minimum of 3-4 miles each run, to stay acclimated and in shape for running. But if I maintain that level of fitness I can do the occasional longer run without much difficulty.

Return to RunningIMG_1680

In August 2009, I made a renewed commitment to running and it’s really paid off. I’ve always been engaged in some type of physical activity, whether walking, hiking, cycling, occasionally long-distance swimming, so it wasn’t too difficult to get back up to speed.

I began with intervals. 2 minutes of running, 1 minute walk and would do that for about 20 minutes. Then, I’d walk another 2 miles. After a few days, I was running 3-4-5 minute intervals, with a 1-minute walking interval in between. It took me about 2 weeks to get up to running 1 mile nonstop.  And another week to run 2 miles nonstop.

In September 2009, I registered for a 5K run in Tuscumbia. It was a local run to raise money for breast cancer. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. She was going to walk it and my plan was to run as much as I could and then walk with her. For some reason, we got our wires crossed and she thought I’d decided, at the last minute, not to drive up to the Shoals. When I showed up at her house at 6 a.m. she was still asleep. I ended up doing the run by myself and ran the entire 5K. I was thrilled and, once again, hooked on running.

In hindsight, I can’t believe I stopped for so long. Oh wait. Yes, I can. Sidewalks, streets and running trails in Stillwater, Oklahoma are paved with the hardest concrete I’ve ever run on and I just couldn’t get into a running groove there. I simply could not run on those sidewalks or the streets in my neighborhood. So, during my years in Stillwater, I walked (6 miles regularly, 2x around Boomer Lake), I rode my bike, I swam laps at my neighborhood pool, I had a weight workout at the Seretean Wellness Center.

Running: The Early Years

I started running when I was in high school. I’d planned to do the Tennessee River Run, a 10K, but didn’t quite make it to that level before the race. I ended up doing the 2-mile run run. I’ve been running ever since.

I’m a slow runner, always have been, but I have good endurance once I get in running shape. When I was younger, I was kind of embarrassed to be so slow. The turtle. But, as time passed, I got over that. For one thing, I often won age group awards because there simply weren’t many 20-something women running in the 1980s (at least not in road races). In my 40s, I’ve found the same to be true. But there is more competition at the Helen Keller Festival Run than some of the smaller runs, so no age-group awards there, at least not this year.

My longest official “run” was a half-marathon in 1988. The Devil’s Milhopper Half-Marathon in Gainesville, Florida. At the end of the run, I plopped down in the grass and quickly realized my seat choice was prime fire ant property. I did a bit of a dance to the nearby gym bathroom. Fortunately, I’m not allergic to fire ants. No harm, no foul. The sudden movement probably helped me to avoid soreness because it kept me moving after the run.

Why I Run

As the years passed, I realized that I run because running makes me feel good, not because I’m out to “win” races. I never expect to “win” a prize. Simply by training, showing up and running, I win. So many people can’t run because of a physical injury or ailment.  Many more are too lazy or unmotivated to make the effort. Some claim to be too busy (I wonder how anyone can be so busy that health is disregarded). I am blessed to have the capacity to run and I now feel that my running is a way of showing my gratitude for good health.

An aside: I realize that not everyone “likes” to run. Although it’s hard for me to really understand this, I can accept it, provided the person is engaged in some regular physical activity-whether yoga or weight-training, cycling or dance-y aerobics. I can accept it because I prefer exercising outdoors. We’re all different. What’s important is that everyone gets physical activity, preferably including something aerobically-challenging.

I don’t listen to music when I run. It’s my down-time. My thinking time. My non-thinking time. I’m on auto-pilot. When I walk, I listen to music. IMG_0007I’ve had an iPod since August 2001, a Discman and a Walkman before that. But when I run, I soar. At the pace of a turtle, perhaps, but I still soar.

I plan to keep running as long as I can. The more I run, the more I want to run.

And, as Aesop taught us: In the end, the tortoise won.