By Jeanne Ellen Russell
Picture this. I'm in Charlottesville having lunch with two friends whom I haven't seen for 20 years. We are celebrating my 49th birthday. We're laughing and reminiscing about fun times at Longwood College. The waiter offers to take our picture. I am delighted ... Then I look at the picture. There are Karen and Carolyn, smiling, happy and looking fabulous; just as they did in college. But wait! Who is that old lady sitting in the middle? She looks like somebody's pudgy, slightly dotty, maiden aunt. She's OLD and fat and... oh my god, she's ME! How did this happen? I'm the young one; the crazy one, the one that ... I'm the one that ate, drank and was merry as my body slowly expanded to the point where I look like somebody's aunt Bea. My insides and outsides don't match and it took bumping up against my past for me to realize it. Oh no!
Luckily I was with two friends who evidently held the secret to staying young and fit. It turns out that they both run. Karen was always an athlete and looks it. But in college Carolyn was more like me; a party animal. Now she does yoga and runs in 5k's. So I decided right then that I would get in shape by my 50th birthday or die trying.
Both friends were supportive. Karen told me I needed to get good shoes and that I should start slow. And Carolyn took me to Ragged Mountain Running Shop where, in addition to a great pair of shoes, I got a flyer called, "Walk to Run; how to safely go from zero to a lifestyle of running in 10 weeks." The program starts you off walking and then incrementally adds short distances of running until you can really run. Perfect. I had the shoes. I had a plan. I was set.
The program days were Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On the first day I only had to walk for six minutes with no running. "I may be a couch potato but even I can do better then that," I thought. So I started at week three and I added extra walking time to that. I was practically a runner already.
On my second week (week four of the program) I had a meeting on Wednesday morning. I thought that maybe I should exercise in the afternoon that day. I didn't. Then on Thursday I felt guilty and intended to run extra but when I got up that morning, I didn't feel like running at all so I had a cup of coffee instead. Yep. I had punked out in less than two weeks.
Maybe I just didn't have what it took. Or maybe I should have listened to Karen and started slow. Maybe Mark Lorenzoni (co-owner of Ragged Mountain) set up the program as he did for a reason.
So I decided to try again. This time I would stick to the program. I would start with the six minutes and slowly work my way up. Starting slow works well because as you build stamina you also build time commitment.
The running part starts off in short increments. You run 30 seconds and then walk three minutes and repeat until you reach the goal for the day. I used a kitchen timer to keep track. With the utmost grace, I would hold it up in front of my face while I jogged; to make sure I didn't miss the exact moment I could revert back to walking. Eventually I had to run one minute at a time. To cope, I invented affirmations for myself to help me make it through the endless minute until I could walk again. "Exercise makes me skinny. Exercise makes me trim. Exercise makes me happy with only one chin!" And as the running times increased, there were days when I wasn't sure I could do it. But somehow Mark magically knew just how much I could take and brought me right to that edge.
And as the running got easier, I found myself noticing the birds and the duck families paddling on Stony Creek and one day I accidentally ran an extra minute. Then on the Thursday of week 10, I ran for 20 minutes straight.
Now I run four days a week. I go slow and I'm not yet magically young but I run. Mark has kindly agreed to let me post his program on my website in case you want to try it too.
Jeanne Russell is a guest columnist and a creative services professional who lives in Edinburg. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org