Everybody laughed at me when I declared: “I suck at running but I am going to do it anyway.” The lessons I learned in the process have been completely unexpected.
My father laughed. My brother was laughing so hard he was swaying forwards and backwards. My mother placed her hand on her head and said “Oh no! what now!”. My husband suppressed the laugh; but only because he knew that he would have to go home with me that night.
Three years ago I announced at the family weekly get together lunch that I would do the Sun Run. A popular Vancouver 10K run.
There were head shakes with disbelief.
There were “But you need to be an athlete to run 10K.”
There were “But you can’t run around the block, how will you run a 10k race?”
There was “But people train for that sorta thing.”
In defiance, I said ” so I will train and do the bloody 10k race. I don’t see what the big deal is?”. Despite my nonchalant exterior, I wasn’t surprised at my family’s response. I would run for 5 minutes and feel like I was about faint and collapse. Few days following my proclamation, I enrolled in a running clinic that is for complete beginners. The premise is simple you start by running 30 seconds and walking for 4.5 minutes, repeat for an hour. Every week, you increase the running time and reduce the walking time by a bit until you are able to run the whole hour. I would meet with the group 9 am every Sunday and do the routine with the group and later you are supposed to do it on your own twice during the week. The first meeting was easy. Those 30 seconds went by so fast that I would hardly notice the time going by. Hey! Even I could do it and with ease. Good start.
The next day it snowed in Vancouver. And when it snows in Vancouver you don’t get that nice powdery ice cream like fluff you get in Montreal. You see, in Vancouver it snows, then the temperature goes up, which means the snow partially melts forming a slushy substance, and then it rains on top of that, forming wet vastness of murky goo. After people walk on this murky goo for a day the icy part is compacted leaving the water on top of the compacted murky goo. Water on top of compacted ice like murky goo is the perfect recipe for breaking your neck. How was I supposed to do my two walk/run routines during the week. It snows very rarely in Vancouver, about once or twice a year. That year the snow was particularly unusual because it happened in October. I felt that the whole universe was conspiring to stop me from training for the Sun Run.
Even God was laughing at me and telling me “ihath, you can’t do this”.
But being the stubborn Iraqi that I am, I was adamant that I would do it. Since I work full time and have three small children to care for, my days are pretty full. Making 5 am in the morning the perfect time for training for this working mother. I woke up, at 5 am looked out the window. It looked dark, cold and miserable outside. I put my running shoes on and went outside anyway. If you think that walking on the murky goo is dangerous try doing it in the dark when you can’t see. Much more fun. I was the only person outside. As I ran and walked I kept telling myself “I am the most insane person in the world”. Definitely, an A type personality. I spent more energy looking where I was going and balancing myself on icy patches than the actual running. I think I got more muscle toning that cardio on that day. But, I did it anyway. When I got back home my husband was awake. “You are the most insane woman in the world” he told me.
I knew if I would drop the ball at the beginning I wouldn’t continue with the running clinic and I would have to bear the teasing of my family for many years to come. I could imagine the weekly family lunch, week after week, year after year hearing “Do you remember the time when Elen said she would run the 10k? hahahaha wasn’t that a hoot?”. Who says family can’t be the source of your motivation?
The next week, I showed up for the group run and It was snowing heavily on that day. About 20% of the group showed up only. Most people didn’t bother leaving home on that morning. But I was there, ready for the next stage. “Go ahead God!, have a good laugh.”
We ran/ walked for an hour and it snowed so heavily that I could hardly see in front of me. Anybody who lives in Vancouver will tell you how rare that is. There was something beautiful and surreal about walking and running in the snow. I suck at running but I was determined to put in the time. At least with the fresh powdery snow it wasn’t slippery.
Three weeks of running/walking on slippery goo, where followed by 5 am running/walking in the pouring rain. And I mean I would come home dripping water from every limb. I would walk through the back door into the kitchen of the house so wet that I had to take all my clothes off in the entrance so as not to wet the carpets in the house. I would find my husband in the kitchen about to make coffee and he would look at me and shake his head. He had already given up on talking me out of it at that point.
For my birthday that year, my husband bought me the full running gear. The trousers the technical shirt even the running jacket thing. I suck at running but at least I will look good doing it. All sugoi. All in my favorite color of eggplant purple. I guess he figured it I was gonna fall flat on my face, I might as well do it looking good. I saw this as an awesome gesture of encouragement. Even though he didn’t support what I was doing he supported me any way and I loved him for it.
The night before the race I got a concerned phone call from my dad. It went something like this.
Dad: So are you going through with it?
Me: Yes, off course.
Dad: Honey, I am worried you will hurt yourself, running 10k is no joke.
Me: Don’t worry, I trained.
Dad: You know, I won’t think less of you if you quit, I promise that nobody in the family will make fun of you if you quit now.
Me: Dad, don’t worry, I will do fine.
Dad: Listen, if you feel hurt half way through, don’t push yourself, just stop half way through and go home, ok!
Me: Dad, don’t worry, I will do fine.
Dad: Ok, just promise me you won’t push yourself, if you feel pain you will stop.
Me: Ok Dad, but don’t worry.
Dad: I promise you nobody will make fun of you if you stop half way through.
That night when I went to bed I tossed and turned. I had nightmares where I am running and then I fall flat on my face. I couldn’t sleep very well. My husband kept telling me “You will do fine, now go to sleep”.
The next day, I did it. I ran the 10k and I didn’t fall flat on my face and I didn’t stop half way through. When I crossed the finish line, I started to cry.
I had finished university, balanced career with family, gave birth to three children, learned foreign languages and traveled around the world. None of these things were easy, but they were all expected of me. They were things that I myself and my family expected of me. This was the first time that I had done something that nobody expected of me. I surprised them all, including myself. I suck at running but I got to the finish line anyway.
I went home to find my children cheering “mommy we saw you running”. My husband gave me a hug. My dad called to say “ I take my words back, I am sorry I made fun of you earlier, you did it and I am proud of you”.
From then on, every year, I have resolved myself to do something that I don’t believe that I can do. Something that I am terrified of, something that I have never done before. I suck at running. If I can suck at that, what else can I suck at. So far I have tried, running, dancing and this years challenge is writing a book. The fun just never ends.
update: five years after writing this initial I Suck At Running blog post.
Last Sunday, I participated in the Vancouver Sun Run 10K race.
This is the fifth time I participate in this. My time this year was 66 minutes which my best time so far.
While any serious runner would not be impressed by my 66 minutes for a 10K run, I feel very proud considering the fact that I started as a couch potato.
Below is a picture of me crossing the finish line.