I did it. I did it. I did it.
My first road run. I won’t say race, because at my normal pace – 11-12-minute miles – it wouldn’t be fair to the real runners. But I entered and jogged the 10K track, and came in at a very good time for me. My best time, in fact for that distance. Me. In this body. This body that couldn’t run a quarter of a mile a year and a half ago. Or for that matter, 2 miles two months ago. This all new old body.
Yesterday, I was one of 40,000 women and girls (and a rather startling number of cross-dressing men and boys as Queen Elizabeth, Carmen Miranda, many nuns, many fairys, many outfits prettier and frillier than any I own around bustlines larger than any I’ve seen before) who turned out for the Dublin Women’s Mini-Marathon hosted by the Dundrum South Dublin Athletic Club and sponsored by Dublin’s Evening Herald and Nike.
This is the largest all-women run in the world, and it’s a beautiful, funny, fascinating, party of a run through Dublin’s gorgeous southeast Georgian streets, lined with many well-wishers, and drummed on by an astonishing number of Irish boy bands, Elvis impersonators, rock and rock-a-billy musicians.
After assembling for hours at the start, then shifting in circles in the hot sun, we start with the runners singing the first stanza of the old Irish folk song, Molly Malone, and we end in Dublin’s pubs, spilling out onto the streets in a flow of medals and lycra, red faces, and stout and lager and pilsner. The women who participated will have raised millions for their charities and causes, the single largest fund-raising day in the Irish calendar year.
I began training for it just two months ago with the help of an online coach. (More about online coaching in a later piece.) Let me say first and last that I have always hated running, mainly because it used to hurt so, but also because I’ve been so bad at it. (Flip sides of the same coin, it turns out.) When I’m graceful and good at other things, why would I choose a form of exercise that I’m lousy at and that hurts me?
One answer? It’s always there. With the right pair of shoes, running is always an option. There is very little in the way of weather that you can’t run in if you’re determined enough. And I happen to live in a very pretty rural area where running just seems the right thing to to watch the seasons shift. If I can train my body to do it, I could get away with just three long runs a week, rather than working out a little bit every day. Some weeks I’d like that option.
Second, running is certainly the most efficient form of exercise for keeping in good cardiovascular shape, but also for working at spurts of high intensity that we seem to need to keep our metabolisms humming, cholesterol levels where we want them. By efficient, I mean, it burns more calories per minute and takes the least amount of time in my day.
Third, there is the training effect. Pavement pounding. Now I’m over 40, with knees that have carried an extra 100 lbs. around for the past 20 years. Osteoporosis is a real concern among the women in my family. One of my knees was damaged in a car accident years ago, and has never fully recovered. But my knees and hips have been X-rayed, and found to be in really pretty good shape compared with how they have felt. Well, they’ve been a bit weak. Running, rather than tearing them down, seems actually to be making them much stronger. Weight-bearing exercise does help you, over time, working consistently, to retain bone mass.
My knees are in much better shape after two months of training than they were when I started. In fact, after the first two weeks of training, I was quite sure I would never run this race. My knees, ankles, shins just hurt too much during those first few weeks.
But with plenty of rest between runs, gradually, they stopped hurting altogether. And then I could run farther on them. And farther. And even a little faster. Now, I swear to you, every run seems to be strengthening my knees and ankles and hips. This is the training effect. You tear your body down a little bit with the run yes, but with rest between runs, your body responds by rebuilding you a little stronger, a little tougher each time so that you can take more, do more, tolerate more. Your heart muscle strengthens, the ligaments that hinge your joints strengthen. Everything works better, more smoothly, after a while. For instance, after 8 weeks.
I think of my friends who study Qi Gong, who beat away at one another’s guts and forearms and shins, or they pound their hands, feet, and forearms against wood and stone to build more and stronger bone, ligament, endurance. They train their bodies to withstand great blows and force without getting hurt. And it works.
Now, I’m not enduring anything like that kind of pain, but I can’t argue with my own results. These last 8 weeks have changed my mind forever about running.
The miraculous thing about our bodies is the way they will meet our demands. They will rebuild themselves in response to stress, will recover after illness, will heal and strengthen and become just as powerful as we want them to, barring serious malfunction or disease, of course. There’s nothing like running to prove it.
We can be soft, like mollusks, and let the slightest force squish us flat. Or we can build our bodies to endure a great deal of stress without hurting. It’s a choice.
In my life, do I need to be able to run 10K for any practical purpose? Nope. No, I don’t. But being able to has made a huge difference to my feet and good humor as a tourist. I can save money hoofing half of Dublin from the bus station to my hotel with my bag on my back, avoiding cab fare, without breaking a sweat. I can climb to the top of a castle tower without getting dizzy or taking my mind off the architecture. I can’t believe I can do that, when I used to feel just so stressed about getting from here to there on my sore feet, and avoided castle towers altogether.
And I can run through a beautiful new city on a sunny day, past high school bands and many cheering small girls, in the middle of a crowd of 40,000 women, many younger than me, many older, many faster, many slower, some with one breast, some none, most running for a cause or cure, many with their daughters, mothers, grandmothers in a country where women still occasionally receive a few arched eyebrows for wearing shorts, much less running gear, much less running at all. Most of whom know the lyrics to any Elvis tune. Certainly all of whom know the words to Molly Malone:
In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, Cockles! And Mussels! Alive, Alive-O!
Alive, Alive-O! Alive, Alive O!
Crying Cockles! And Mussels! Alive, Alive -O!
Thanks to my nice Elizabeth, who inspired me to do this, and for the Pittsburgh Marathon experience, without which I would have chickened out, for sure. You rock, girly-girl.
Thanks to Lowell Ladd, my coach at icoach.com, who trained me from a whiney non-runner into a reasonable jogger in two short months, with good humor and patience, and working far beneath his level.
Thanks to my husband, Jack. Again. And again. What a patient man.
Thanks, thanks, thanks to all of you for your training tips and notes and letters of encouragement. There have been many, and they helped me find that zone that you do find, the one in which you can run and run.
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