First of all, turtles are not as slow as you might think. Have you ever actually seen one run? We adopted a turtle for our daughter and almost lost her in our yard before our daughter ever got to meet her. Petrie liked to explore, and would walk very slowly at first, then pick up the pace and take off; for the size of their short, fat little legs, turtles can really move! Compared to other four -legged creatures they may be slow, but given their heavy bodies and short legs, they are performing quite a feat at the speed they travel.
I can totally relate to Petrie’s plight. I have short, thick legs as well (my son affectionately calls me “Stumpy” when he has to reach the high cupboards for me), and no matter how fast I want them to move, they can only do their best. I am probably never going to run a marathon, but I have run a 5k and a 4miler, and I hope to do a 10k in the future. I wasn’t fast, but I did it.
The fact that I run at all is a major accomplishment for me. I am not naturally athletic; I never participated in any sports in school, nor were any of the female role models I had growing up particularly into fitness. Just as I was about to join the track team in 7th grade, I broke my foot by slipping on the ice in a parking lot. It took the entire season for it to heal, and by 8th grade I felt behind so I never went out for the team again. As fate would have it, I married a track coach.
But even my track coach husband couldn’t keep me from hurting myself every time I attempted to take up running. I always did too much too soon or ran in worn out or non-supportive shoes. For one glorious summer in 1998, I ran nearly every day–with shin splints–but I ran and lost weight and toned up while doing it.
Fast forward to 2012. Good Morning America was running a “Most Beautiful Places in America” contest and featured Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. We chose to go there for a short vacation, but when we got to the dunes, I was so out of shape and overweight that I could barely climb the smallest ones to see the gorgeous views. I was so disappointed in myself that I vowed then and there that I would start hiking as soon as we got home, and I asked my husband to help me stay accountable. For the rest of the summer and into the fall, we hiked regularly at the beautiful North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metro Park system. As I got stronger, I asked my husband (also my hiking guide) to choose harder and steeper trails. Within a few months, we were hiking 5 mile trails four to five times a week–but my weight was barely budging.
By April 2013, life had weighed me down, quite literally, and I still carried over 200 pounds on a 5 foot 4 inch small/medium frame. That spring I realized that I was the exact same age–43 years, 4 months, and 16 days–as my brother was when he had died in 2006. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, This was all the time my brother got. But I am alive, and do I want to live this way for the rest of my life, possibly 40 or more years?
I realized I wanted to live–not just exist. My weight was a tangible representation of the grief I carried after my brother’s overdose in 2006 and my nephew’s suicide in 2011. I wanted to change my life and my weight; I wanted to feel joy again. Around this time, a coworker told me about the Dirty Girl Mud Run races. Now, to say this sort of event was out of my comfort zone was a major understatement, but something about their tagline–Proceed Without Caution–resonated with me at just that time. My coworker and I corralled several more women and put together a team.
The only way our teammates would join was if we agreed to walk the course instead of running it. This was fine by me! We had a great time getting muddy, but I got pretty banged up, including scrapes, bruises, and general aches and pains all over my body. It took me days to recuperate physically, and that was when I realized I was ready to set my next goal: to run a race.
Another friend had told me about the Couch to 5k app, and since I knew my ability was so low to begin with, I thought it would be a great starting point for me. I strongly recommend this app to anyone who is a novice runner. At over 200 pounds, I started running 3 times a week and NEVER hurt myself! No shin splints, no pulled muscles, no injuries of any kind. It was a revelation to me that I could run without injury. The program uses progressive interval training and a realistic plan of running three times a week (not on back to back days) to let each runner start where she is. Seriously, I was so slow when I started that my track coach husband looked like he was running in place–or even backwards–to stay at my pace!
I started the 9 week Couch to 5k program in late August 2013 with a goal of running the Christmas Story House 5k in December 2013. My coworker who I walked with regularly then invited us to do the Ohio State 4 Miler that November, so although I wasn’t quite finished with the 9 weeks, we went down to Columbus for the event. I wasn’t able to run the entire time (I walked some), and it was freakishly cold that morning, but I was proud to finish my first race on the Ohio State Buckeyes’ 50 yard line.
Finally, December 2013 arrived and I was ready to run my first 5k race. I learned the hard way at the Ohio State 4 Miler that I really needed to buy some thermal running tights. It was brutally cold on the day of the race, but this is Cleveland, so I was prepared. I was layered up over my running tights and socks, and they worked their magic. My feet never got too cold for comfort and even on the 14th Street bridge, I never stopped running that day! I ran the entire 5k and finished with a 13 minute mile average, which I was pretty pleased with, given how cold it was and how many icy spots, pink nightmares, elves, leg lamps and “FRAGILE” crates I had to dodge that day!
My husband and I continued to run at the gym over the winter of 2013-2014, and I lost a total of 30 pounds while running 2-3 times per week and attending barre classes 3 times per week. I am now on my fourth cycle of the Couch to 5k app. I also use the MapMyRun app as well to track my distance more accurately with GPS, and I just started wearing the FitBit Charge HR to help push me to work out at higher intensity. Because I was injured (not running) in early June of 2014, I was unable to run any races last season, but I am back at it now with a goal of losing 30 more pounds. So if you happen to see a short-legged runner with a clumsy gait gasping for air on the trail someday, just remember: we have to work with what we’ve got. I might be slow, BUT I RUN.