All the way up through high school I was never able to run a a mile. I lifted weights, did squats, power cleans, lunges etc, I was fit, but I never ran. I sucked at it. It seemed like my asthma was refusing to let me run like everyone else, even when I loved to do it. In college I learned to love to hike. I moved to Colorado and went through a long and slow acclimation of the 5,000 ft altitude in Fort Collins from sea level in Arizona in 2005 where I’d come from. I could run even less at that altitude, and the first time I picked up a bike there I barely made it around the block.
That was until I tried my first road bike somewhere around 2012. By then I was fully acclimated to hiking and being active in Colorado. All of a sudden it felt like air was on my side and I rode that bike around the block, and then down the street, and then took it on the Poudre Trail. My first 5 miles on a bicycle were tough, I remember worrying about having an asthma attack. What it really was, was the fear that was keeping me from overcoming these cardio-fears of mine, childhood fears of failure at something I’d wanted so badly for so long. What if I sucked at it, and had an asthma attack? And if that fear becomes too great, it will send me into an asthma attack, so keeping control of my fears, I learned through Rocky Mountain hiking, was key to my moving forward. “Don’t think about having an inhaler, or not having an inhaler with you.Thinking a bout it, worrying about it, WILL make me breathe harder,” I had to remind myself.
I can bike 15 miles a day now, at 20 mph on my bike, at Rocky Mountain altitude without much trouble. My older brother told me I would love running if I’d just get over this fear of it, that I should try running with him.
“Me and running don’t get along,” I told him.
And its true, if I run with someone who is pushing me, I break down, my old fears come back and I nearly bring myself into a panic attack through my panic of not being able to keep up, which of course caused my asthma issues. I didn’t think I could do it. On my own, I push myself. But I was convinced for most of my life that I just couldn’t run, that I was terrible at it.
Then, at the peak of my fitness, being in the best hiking shape of my life after hiking 160 miles on the Camino de Santiago along with a surfeit of hikes over the past year in the Rockies and otherwise, I pulled on my fancy running shoes from 2004 (yep, those babies were vintage! And baby blue!) , and went for a run.
I set out with tons of enthusiasm, surging forward like a racehorse out the gate, and what do you know, I made it a half mile before my asthma got the better of me. “I still suck at this!” “I thought, how can I be so in shape for hiking and cycling, and still not be able to run?” I was defeated by my own enthusiasm. I walked back home, breathing heavily.
The following afternoon in Arizona’s comfortable 70 degree afternoon I laced up my shoes and bounded again down the same path, a long stretch of dirt from my house going between two fields, lined with baby date trees. “Just to the end of this field this time,” I thought to myself. I made it to the end of that field. The next day I made it yet another field further. Each day, while tracking my runs with Strava, as I always had my bike rides; I made it further and further until by the following week I had run my first mile. Running all the way. I was still trying to run fast, though.
My friend Rhett told me around this time, as we sat at a park observing people’s running techniques, that 40 minutes of cardio work was way more beneficial than going all out for 10 minutes for a short run. Which is what I had been doing, trying to better my mile time. Running slower for a longer distance would also do much more good for my body and obvious overall shape. I let that resonate for a moment. DUH, I thought to myself. That made sense, too. I realized then that I was doing short bursts of running and using up all of my energy at once! Once I started slowing down my entire pace from the beginning. After a couple of weeks I hit that “runner’s high” that everyone had talked about. It hit somewhere after my first mile and a half, and then fun really began.
Perhaps my most valuable lesson taken from my 160 mile trek about 2 weeks on the Camino de Santiago last September, carrying everything I needed in a 15lb backpack on my back, is that I don’t really need much in life to be happy, and that whenever I think I’m physically done, I’m not. The body is an amazing machine. There were days I hiked 20 miles and realized I might not have a bed if I didn’t make it the next 3 miles in good time, I found new gears I didn’t know I had. I forgot about pain shooting up through every part of my leg, or my hunger, or whatever it might have been. At some point I stopped feeling my legs, they became the motor beneath my body, powering me along. I forgot about them. They were a means to an end, whether that was adrenaline or positive thinking, it hit me, everyone was focusing so much energy on the pain of their bodies, and whining, and slouching over, they were making their pains worse! So I stopped worrying about it and went! It would become a valuable lesson.
A little less than a month ago I ordered the Merrell Ascend Glove trail-running shoe, because my trusty Solomon’s that carried me through Camino de Santiago had finally worn large holes in them, and rocks were getting in. It was time to give them up. They were very much trail shoes, and I found that these Merrel shoes were more running shoes with a trail-appropriate edge to them. Since November 2013 I’ve started trail running after a steep hike every week over a rocky, desert area near where I live. The Merrell Ascend Gloves have a zero drop with a light layer of cushioning for the “barefoot-inspired performance”, which I love. I’m not ready for barefoot shoes yet, I still enjoy my comforts. But what it meant for me, was that my heal was now shoved down on the ground, slowing me down drastically. I had rock hard calves by the end of that run. Suddenly, I knew where my feet were, and I wasn’t stretching them far out in front of me, but rather keeping them in a controlled movement beneath my body allowing me to tighten my abs, stand up straight, shoulders back, and go the distance.
Now I can feel the rocks under my shoes, the ground beneath my feet. There is a light padding on the Merrel’s, it doesn’t hurt to go over rocks, it just brings forth a new awareness of the rocks. I enjoy feeling nature beneath my feet. Gentle reminders… to be closer to, and more gentle with mother nature.