Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Story of Belly

I've gotten a number of questions, recently, from folks who wonder when and how I started to train. It's a long and circuitous story. I hope you can stick with me until the end. I may need installments.


A long time ago (grade school, high school) I was a pretty active kid. I remember putting on shoes and going for a run before running was cool -- and before there were shoes that could support a girl's feet. So, at least in my early days, I associated running with Fun but also with Pain (my knees would actually be purple when I'd finish a run). I was in soccer, and cheerleading, and volleyball -- and wanted to be in cross country; but I was told that I needed to Choose My Sports Wisely, because my knees were Weak (because of said purplish hue).

After high school, I went off to college -- and then to law school -- and I learned how to be sedentary. I became a Certified Smoker. I ate ramen noodles and mac n' cheese, and I loved every minute of it -- the starving student, sustained by caffeine (literally multiple pots of coffee in a day) and nicotine and knowledge.

I was a total idiot, obviously.

I then embarked on a career in the law. I worked. Hard. But I worked at two amazing law firms, where I learned a lot about the law and about myself. More about myself than the law, frankly. I learned, for example, that I was not good at setting my own boundaries. It would not be unheard of for someone to call me at 5:00 on a Friday and ask for my help on a project -- and for me to say yes, and to spend the weekend working. It was also not unheard of for me to be out of town for weeks on end, or for me to be at the office until 12:00, 1:00, even 4:00 in the morning.

That changed, obviously.

Almost three years ago now (can it be that long ago?), a friend/acquaintance of mine joined a Learn to Run program to lose weight. You might be familiar with it -- in the first week you walk for three minutes and run two, then after a week or two walk for 2 minutes and run for 3, and then walk for 1 minute and run for 4, etc. etc. She needed a training partner, and asked (well, really, pressured) me to run with her in the mornings.

I told her that she was crazy: In the course of working so hard, I had amassed a number of stress related ailments. I had a bad back, bad knees, weak ankles, and I hadn’t done any strenuous activity (outside of lugging a suitcase for an overnight deposition) in years. I had frequent back spasms, heart palpitations (I wore a heart monitor at age 27 because of arrhythmia caused, they think, by stress and caffeine) and I had been a smoker for nearly 15 years. But, even with all the protesting, I figured it would be helpful for her to have some company.

And so, one August morning, I went out to the lakefront path that I really had never been on much before, and hoped that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. Much to my amazement, I loved it. I was going at a 12:30 minute per mile pace, sure, but I could still do it. Soon (very soon -- as in, within mere days) my friend tired of the program and dropped out, but I kept on using her training plan – loving the improvement and the new energy. Every month I got faster (not hard to do when you start so slowly) without trying, and went further down the lakefront path. When people asked how fast I went, I would respond that it didn't matter, and I wasn't trying to go faster; who would want to make something so fun end so soon?

And my attitude (about life, about time, about work) changed - dramatically. Soon I was taking hours to run on the lakefront -- hours when I didn't have my blackberry perched on the table next to me, humming away when a new request arrived. Hours when it was me, and my feet, and my heart, and my head. A whole new world opened up for me. I began to appreciate the sunrises again, and the geese that I saw during every run, and the changes of the seasons ... I suppose you could say that I finally found some peace.

And, much to my complete amazement, my back stopped aching; my ankles strengthened; my knees no longer seized up; the heart palpitations ended; and the back spasms ceased altogether. Six months after starting to run, I quit smoking for good. I’ve now done races ranging in distance from a 5k to the Chicago Marathon, and pretty much everything in between. I even led a training group for a 10 mile race -- and that was when I learned that I actually enjoy training other people more than training myself. Motivating one particular runner, and making her race strong, was a wonderful goal. And she rocked the race (as did I, actually).

In December 2007, after having been an official Runner for about a year and a half, I decided to Expand My Horizons and Meet Some People. I signed up with the yahoo meetup running group, and promised to meet them at the lakefront path in front of the totem pole (you may know where that is). At 8:00 a.m., there I stood -- waiting around, asking one runner after another "are you the yahoo meetup group?" and getting the same response: "nope." So, I went to a parking lot behind the totem pole, and saw 6 sinewy tall runners. Again, "are you the yahoo meetup group?" - answer "nope. but you can run with us if you want"... I shuffled away - I couldn't keep up with them, and I knew it. I approached a few others, and was met with disappointment, as I realized that I wasn't going to Meet Any People that day. I was almost embarrassed -- nobody really wanted to run with me.

Then, I saw a group of about 20 runners trotting by in groups of two or three, all smiling and chatting with one another, looking to be the picture of heath and friendship combined -- I yelled "are YOU the yahoo meetup group?" and I heard the response "Who are they?" and "C'mon - run with us!"

I had two seconds - maybe only one - to decide. They look like they're going my pace. Maybe faster. But maybe I can keep up? Can I keep up? Aaaak! I took a deep breath, and hopped in line, running about as fast as I could at the time just to keep up with them. I met one after another of them, as they took turns striding next to me, hearing my story, and bringing me into the fold. They are called the Clocktower Runners, and they continue to be the source of great friendship. Amazing people.

That split second decision - to run with the CRs, also changed my life. A few months after starting to run with the group, I took a new job that I got through the contacts that I made while running. I now work more normal hours -- hours that let me train to my heart's content. And, even more importantly, tThrough that group, I met SJV, my amazing boyfriend and an amazing triathlete. He encouraged me to try a triathlon, and I loved it from the very first race. Our Story is even more special than The Story of Belly, and I will indeed save that one for its own special post.

But hopefully this post helps you to understand why triathlon and running and training in general is so important to me -- why and how it has brought me to this wonderful and peaceful place in my life, and why I want everyone to see what it can do for them. And hopefully you can also see that if you're not happy where you are right now, you can change. I'm living proof, after all. Less than three years ago, I was a smoker/drinker/work-a-holic/stress case.

Today I'm ... well ... Belly.

Enjoy the ride.

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Idgy the Cat

Idgy the Cat