Running To Save My Life

My journey to better health was a journey I never expected to undertake.

“The only time I will run is if I am being chased for my life.” That’s what I repeated most of my life. It is odd how that actually became true. I hated the thought of running and did everything I could to get out of it in my youth. Sure, as a kid I ran around playing, who did not. First, that is usually short bursts in games and while you are imagining storming the castle or any other fantasy. But I didn’t like it.

Once middle and high school came along and the dreaded Presidential Fitness Tests came about, I hated it even more. Our gym teachers always read, out loud, what the expectations were for our age groups and I wasn’t even close. When it came to the days of running the 440 and such, I would run maybe 100 yards (that is being generous) and then stop. I would be at the back with the other non-running kids. There Mr. Harris would be yelling at us from across the field. Worst days ever.

Who knew that when I turned 48, I literally started running to save my life? Okay that may sound a bit over dramatic but I assure you that it is nonetheless true. No, I did not suddenly wake up the morning of my birthday to a giant predator chasing me out of bed. But my life was in jeopardy and changes had to be made. I was terrified because I can’t run. I have bad knees that are wracked with arthritis and a condition called Osgood-Schlatter’s disease. I put all of that aside to try to better my health and become a runner. What is even more shocking is that, if I can do it, anyone can.

False views of a runner

Physical health, in America, isn’t really a focus. Most of the health industry is built on treating symptoms instead of curing the cause. The food pyramid we are taught in schools, especially when I was in school, is now wrong. Gym class teaches kids more about competition and punishes those that don’t fit some prescribed ideals. The whole system seems designed to keep portions of our population in the spots they are instead of trying to elevate them to better.

I was, and until the last couple years, no different. If you were to have asked me what a runner was, I would have pointed you to Olympic athletes, professional sports players, and the weirdos I would pass going to work early in the morning. I thought it was about sprints and had to be fast. I never had the belief that just anyone can be a runner.

was going to join the military, due to a crush on a guy I worked with.So, I started running or what I thought it meant to be a runner. Where we lived was a five acre cow pasture – that would become my track. Off I went, just short of a full sprint. I didn’t make it a100 yards before I was walking. But I pushed on for about a week before I stopped. Having asthma meant I spent more time hacking my lungs up and breathing way too heavy to get any benefit.

I always said to myself…”This is why I hate running.” Who knew I had been doing it wrong.

Being chased for my life

Let me open up by stating, pay attention to your mind, body, and health. Those are the most important things you have in this world. They are precious and fleeting. Go to a doctor, even if you don’t feel unwell. Get some sort of baseline where you are so you know if there are any issues you need to focus on before it becomes too late.

I have talked about how my boyfriend has been my catalyst for change in my life and honestly, I don’t thank him enough for the encouragement he provides and the kick in the ass to do things I should be doing. Honestly, he has probably helped save my life. Him being persistent about me going to the doctor is what allowed me to find out I had cirrhosis and start learning ways to combat it.

I remember sitting in the specialist office when she told me I had cirrhosis. My mind raced to the memories of all the people I knew that had it. Each one was a massive alcoholic and/or drug user. Sure I drank, nowhere near the levels of those I knew. The only exception was my mother. She was diagnosed with cirrhosis late in life due to medication effects on her liver. I knew this disease would kill me and I was terrified and I wanted to give up.

My hepatologist, first, assured me that I was in the beginning stages of cirrhosis and could combat it. Then she laid out a plan of attack. Dietary changes and adding exercise would be my new lifestyle. I will go into dietary changes in a later article, but suffice to say, it meant cutting out a lot of the things I had been doing. Obviously, no alcohol. The exercise is what scared me more. She pointed out that the liver actually loves cardiovascular exercise, it is what will help remove any fatty build up around the organ and help slow down scarification due to inflammation. She hinted that including running would be advantageous. 

So, I finally found the predator that would get me running.

To become a runner

My physical fitness journey didn’t start with running, oh no. Let me be clear, I was overweight and in no shape to run. That wasn’t my goal, in the beginning. I bought a recumbent bike, after much research, due to the lower knee impact and slowly built up more time and speed o it. As the weather warmed to spring, I got out and started walking. I found a trail I loved that had enough change in elevation to help burn calories. I focused on just doing what I was able and slowly pushing myself. 

I was embarrassed to run. What would all those people I pass on the trail think? “Oh look at that fat guy, who does he think he is trying to run.” I knew they would see me as some pathetic attempt at a health change, puffing along uncontrollably or worse. I needed help.

I started researching how to start running and that was even more off putting because it mostly talked about advanced runners preparing for marathons and such. Not me, nope.

Through a lot of time, I found beginner articles that were good and talked of the run/walk/run method and lauded the effects of the Keyan shuffle. I jumped to YouTube to see if there were videos that explained it more. Those are where I started. I found a day on the trail, where I was the only one and decided this would be the day I started. I ran as far as I could, at a slower pace. When I couldn’t go any further, I would run a minute and walk three. Or as much as I could. That lasted until I came up a rise and saw others on the trail. 

I worried more about what others thought than my health. After talking to my therapist and convincing myself, I came to the conclusion that my health was more important than others’ perception of me. I put in my ear buds and focused on just trying to run as long as I could. The trail I walked was two miles around. I went from walking one lap, to two. Next I started running for what I could and walking the rest, still keeping it at two laps (four miles). Soon, I was able to run a half mile with little difficulty. By the end of the summer, I was running most of the two mile loop while only walking the hills. When Spring 2022 arrived, I decided it was time to push myself. I ran the first loop, entirely. When I closed in to the end of the two miles, my heart was racing and not from running. It was the sheer joy that I was feeling from completing something I wanted to do. And weirdly enough, I found out that I enjoyed it and looked forward to it each day.

You are a runner

Okay, this is where this may sound like every other runner’s article out there but you can be a runner. No, it is not an easy thing. It will take dedication and a change of mindset on what running actually is. But the good news is that in the time we live in, it is much easier to become a good runner. Better yet, i am going to give you 5 tips on how to start running, safely. But the biggest thing you need to learn first is to get rid of the preconceived ideas you have about what it is and means to be a runner. They are all bogus!!! 

1. You are a runner

That may sound like a weird tip, but bear with me. The images you have of what a runner is are based on what you were taught. Those teachings are incorrect. The only thing different from not running and running is just that, running. Duh, right? Let me break it down more. All you need to be a runner is to get out there and run, for any distance. If you run three feet, you are a runner. It is that simple, from there it’s all about improvement. Mindset is half the battle.

Stop comparing yourself to athletes or what you thought a runner should be, Stop caring about what others may think of you while running, Spoiler alert, those people you pass on a trail are not focusing on what you are doing, They are more focused on their talks with their friends or their own routines to worry if you look like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers or Eliud Kipchoge (Kenyan long-distance runner).

2. Start slow

This seems counterintuitive to being a runner, runners are fast. This is a misconception, of sorts. Very few people can sit down at a piano and play like Bach, without practice. Running is no different. Start with a good walking program and build on it. Make sure you have good elevation variances to help start building up leg muscles and endurance. As you improve, add short running bouts. Remember to shorten your stride, learn the Kenya shuffle. If you are unfamiliar check out the video below. The video shows you have to transition from walking, to shuffle, to a run, and back.

Running for a few minutes a day, to start, will get your further than trying to go all out on the first try. Plus, starting slower will allow your body to adapt quicker and won’t push you to hate what you are doing. Which means you will have a higher chance of sticking with it.

3. Rest and recovery

Unless you have been running all your life, beginning running is going to be tough. Your body needs time to rest and recover to help lessen the chances of injury and to repair from the stresses you are putting it under. At present, I run three times a week. That is actually where I started, the only changes I made was the distance. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits. This gives you enough regular training with ample time to recover. Keep that slower pace, to prevent injuries. You don’t need to speed run mountains. Make sure you take care of your body so it can take care of you. After your runs, replenish the nutrients and liquids you spent during your time. Add protein to your diet to help your muscles recover.

4. Invest in good kit

Your kit is what you wear to work out. Shoes, clothing, health trackers, earbuds, and etc Some of them are much more important than others. The biggest is a good pair of shoes that you use only for walking/running. Start with a good pair of walking shoes and as you progress, you can start looking for running shoes. I cannot stress this enough, go to athletic shoe store for help, especially a runner’s shoe store. Yes, they do exist. They will be able to help you analyze your foot falls, how you walk and step, and etc to help you find the best shoe for your journey. After all, if your feet hurt while you are walking/running, you are going to dread it and not stick with it. 

Spend a little extra on your workout clothes. Before I go any further, I want to express that they will not necessarily make you better at running but they can help while running. Many brands make clothing that helps wick away sweat from the body and regulate heat dissipation. Both of those do help you run longer and harder. Lower sweat means less chances of chafing. Reducing body heat means you won’t overheat as quickly. Both will allow you longer intervals of exercise. Plus, your workout clothes become a uniform and help create the mindset of what you are wanting to do. Put them on and your mindset switches. Trust me, it can help you stay focused on your goals. Headphones, health wearables and apps all help you track your goal, but the most important equipment is you.

5. Keep at it

The most important thing in becoming a runner is to run. That means sticking with it, dont quit. Some days are going to be hard and some will be amazing, just like life. And like life, giving up will not get you to the end that you want. Sure, you are not going to feel like running everyday and that is okay. If you need a day to yourself, for whatever reason, take it. Get back out there the next day. Don’t beat yourself up or think you are a quitter because you didn’t run your trail today. You are still a runner. 

Set a goal, it helps. My goal is never to miss more than two days of running in a row. When I am under the weather, I may reduce the amount of time or distance that I run, to help. If I absolutely cannot get out, I fall back to my recumbent bike to keep up the training. Remember that being a runner isn’t about how far you run, its simply about running.

Bonus Tip

There are so many things I can list that will help you run, but to save space I have given you five starters. But one bonus tip I can give you is research. Scour the internet for helpful, verified information. Speak to your doctor and nutritionist to build up a plan that is tailored for you and your situations. Don’t just listen to any one person’s advice, you are unique and your regimen needs to be tailored to you.

I also have to say that there is one YouTube channel that has been the biggest help in my running journey and you should also check them out. Ben and Mary are both competition runners but their channels show you that anyone can be a runner and that the best way to become one is to just get out there. There is not intense focus on what you need to buy to be a runner or pushing and grueling training programs. They break it down in no-nonsense terms. Their infectious personalities make you want to run. They have become a beacon in my training. They focus on basics and even offer free training plans on their website. (I am not being paid to recommend them, I just believe in their views and how they inspired me to change the way I think.). While they may seem to focus on running races, they explain that their techniques are for EVERYONE and not focused on intensity or diet specifications.

You can find The Messy Happy at their Blog or on YouTube at The Messy Happy.

Become the runner

My journey to better health was a journey I never expected to undertake. There was no quest giver offering me a reward upon completion, other than my health. Every day it is a battle and it is not always easy. But if I can do it at my age, anyone can. You just need to set the intention and do it, one day at a time. And know that I am here to listen and help, if I can.

So what do you think? Can you be a runner? (That’s a loaded question, of course you can be) How do you feel about running? Do you have a story that made you take it more seriously? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Your journey may be what someone needs to help them start theirs. Now, get out there and run.

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