by michele sprague
w r i t e s t y l i n g s
first published in book
Chicken Soup for the Soul
Running for Good
published june 2019
Getting Back on Track
You’ve done it before and you can do it now….
Redirect the substantial energy
of your frustration
and turn it into
positive, effective, unstoppable determination.
My calf muscles are killing me, I’m struggling to breathe, and I’m waging a war against negative self-talk as I continue a slow jog on the treadmill. I compromise today’s goal of jogging three miles by quitting at one. Feeling defeated, I leave the gym thinking that running is hard work and takes discipline. I don’t want to work that hard. But I know I will.
I remember how good it felt to run a few years ago—the delicious feeling of well-used muscles after running, the camaraderie and excitement of running in community races, hanging out with physically fit people, and the happy atmosphere. I was actually proud when I got a shin splint—my first athlete’s injury—that unfortunately stayed with me throughout the summer.
It’s not like I was a prize athlete or someone for whom exercise played a steady and important role. The majority of my adult life has been spent as an overweight, sedentary person. My exercise consisted of walking in and out of malls and fast-food restaurants.
A few years ago, things changed. My teenage daughter challenged me to run with her in the Crim Festival of Races, now called the Health Plus Crim Festival of Races—an annual event in Flint, Michigan. Typically, over 14,000 people participate in the running and walking events. Determined to make a permanent, positive lifestyle change, I accepted her challenge to run the 5K.
For one wonderful year, I was a role model for a healthy lifestyle—at least among couch potatoes. I considered myself a card-carrying member of an exclusive group of fit and healthy people. My very slow jog worked up to a fast jog—six miles, five days a week, in 50 minutes. I actually enjoyed running.
By the way, something amazing happened along the way. My body seemed to grow smarter. When running, my body let me know that the burgers, pizza, Coke, and cupcakes I consumed weren’t a good idea. After eating them, I felt sluggish and weighed down. Eventually, I didn’t eat as many of those unhealthy foods. My body didn’t want them—and over time, neither did I.
My weekly social calendar included participating in local road races. My speed was consistent, which I attributed to training on a treadmill for months. And me—a former middle-aged couch potato—actually placed in three races in the small age-group category of 45- to 50-year-olds.
That was an exhilarating year. I ran in 13 consecutive weekly races. By the time the Crim race came around, I had months of training under my belt. So, I surprised my daughter and ran in the 8K, not the 5K.
Running in the Crim was the high point of the summer. After all, it was my daughter’s challenge to run in the Crim that started me on my athletic journey.
I remember lining up at the starting line with hundreds, maybe thousands, of runners, along with the nervousness, anxiety and urge to go to the bathroom again. (I had already gone two times.) Family, friends and enthusiastic spectators cheered us on. Some thoughtful people ran their lawn sprinklers on the curb so water drizzled on us while we ran on that hot, August day. Running in the Crim was exhilarating, and I planned to continue my new lifestyle!
Unfortunately, I stopped running three months later and returned to my former lifestyle. My last race was the Halloween race, an event that took place at a fall festival in Davison, Michigan.
The festival was a fun family event. Pumpkins, haystacks and corn stalks decorated the small town, as well as vendors selling baked goods and crafts. Laughing children with painted faces ran around, and runners enjoyed cider and donuts after the race.
That race was definitely different from typical races. Some runners wore costumes and took on the persona of their characters while running. This was a race in which some runners didn’t take their running times seriously. How could they, when their costumed character, Mickey Mouse, was skipping and playing to the spectators? I ran as a witch in a black, cotton gauze dress with a handkerchief hem over my running tights. I also wore a black wig that trailed past my bottom.
In spite of the festivities, my spirits were down, and I didn’t experience my normal “runner’s high” after the race. As usual, my friend’s husband was there to cheer her on. Mine wasn’t. My marriage was crumbling, and I was on the brink of getting a divorce. Depressed, I resorted to my old coping patterns—staking my claim on the couch, eating a lot of comfort foods, and ignoring my running shoes.
My depression ran its course after my divorce, and I came to my senses. I remembered the fun I had at the weekend races, but I knew that to get into that lifestyle again, I would have to do the work. First, I banned junk food from my diet. Then I reintroduced running—actually slow jogging—into my life with the goal of participating in the local races. Just like the first time, I made small, manageable goals and am on my way to a healthier, happy me.
This brings me back to that day at the gym when I compromised my commitment. Yes, running is hard work, takes discipline and battling negative self-talk. I did it once. I will do it again. Actually, I’m doing it now.