Greasy Hands and Sore Legs.

A little over two years ago, I wrote that I wanted to live a car-light life. Considering our constantly shifting living and working situations, and the fact that I had the most reliable, efficient car in our family, I kept my car. I also found it difficult to ride my little mountain bike around — it was the wrong kind of bike to have for commuting purposes and left me exhausted after short distances. I pretty much failed with the goals I had in that post. Yet, I’ve been looking for bikes off and on. For Christmas, my parents gave me a little cash. I set it aside in an envelope and hid it in a drawer, saving it for something ‘special.’ A month ago, I realized exactly what I wanted to use it for: a bike!

Now that we finally live in an area with easy access to the Metra (it’s across the street), shops/libraries/businesses within a couple miles, and my workplace less than four miles away, it’s a great time for me to try bike commuting. Last weekend, my husband and I went to check out a few vintage Schwinn bikes we saw online. I had my eye on a sharp, yellow one. Turns out the guy had dozens of bikes in his garage. I liked the yellow one but kept glancing over at a different, green one  in the corner. I asked to see it, rode it, and ended up falling in love with it. I took it home, at half the price of the original bike I checked out. 

A 1969 Schwinn Collegiate! This is pretty much the exact bike I had envisioned for the last few years. It still needs work — a new paint job, a chrome job (the chrome handles are so rusted that they’re wrapped in tape), and some odds and ends and personalization. But it’s mine! All mine! It is pretty! Comfortable! Green! Whee!

I am so excited to finally start a car-light life!! I already have plans to bike commute all summer. Yet…. I was more excited about this before today. Today the temperature was finally above 40 degrees and I decided to take it out for my first ride – a mere two-mile round-trip to and from the library. I came home a half hour later sweaty, with sore legs, and my hands covered in grease. Despite yoga classes and running after kids all day, I’m out of shape. Even though my husband checked out the bike and greased it up, the gear chains fell off the bike every time I stopped or slowed down. There is no bike rack right next to our buildings so it stays on our third-floor balcony. It is not a light bike to carry up narrow stairways. My glasses were sliding off my nose from the sweat. I. Am. Tired.

I am completely baffled that it is a struggle for me and yet, I see many people zipping around for miles without an issue. Why? I’m frustrated, exhausted, and kind of embarrassed  Bicycling is hard for me. I know the Schwinn isn’t the perfect road commuting bike, but it should get me everywhere within a five-mile radius without a problem, right?

I am hoping this is just a rough beginning. It’ll get better. So, tonight I’ll figure out how to keep the chains from falling off. And tomorrow, I’ll ride a little bit longer.

How Being Naked with 90 Other People Motivated Me to Start Running

I hate running. I loathe it. I avoid it as much as I can.

There, I said it.

When I think of the times in my life that involve running, I think of:

  • The mile-run in P.E. Illinois public schools require P.E. every year, including all four years of high school. Every year, students compete against each other to get the fastest score and laugh at the ones huffing and puffing at the end of the track. Although never overweight, I was one of those people at the end.
  • Being on the track and field team in middle school. I did the long jump and the high jump, which I loved. For some reason, my track and field coach also wanted me to do 4×8 relay, which is the longest relay race. I was the last runner, which meant they were counting on me to win. Apparently I wasn’t too bad at it? Yet, I had to run every day for practice, and every day I’d hate it. I only stuck with it because I really enjoyed jumping. My father was also motivation – he had been a track star in high school and college.
  • Warm-ups prior to a game. I was an athlete growing up. I had no problem playing tournaments all day and doing weights. I was always in great shape. I just hated the running warm-ups in the beginning of games and practices.

Other than that, I just didn’t run. I played sports and lifted weights and rode my bike and went swimming but I just couldn’t get myself to run. I thought running was boring. I thought it was painful. I thought I got enough exercise playing volleyball every week. I thought running was just for crazy people obsessed with fitness or trying to lose weight. It wasn’t for me.

As I recently reflected about my dislike of running, I realized why I hate it so much: I have always associated it with something I was forced to do. A stopwatch was usually involved. I was never well-prepared to run and would always run poorly – out of breath, my face flushing a deep red, painful stitches in my side, light-headed, and occasionally throwing up afterward. Running never made me feel good. So why would I want to do something that doesn’t make me feel good or successful?

Yet, so many people in my life run regularly and it makes them feel good! I admit, I am jealous. I want to feel the way they do about running. I don’t want to be afraid of throwing up again or passing out. I want a free workout that consists of my body, the pavement, and happy endorphins flowing through me afterward.

Then I remembered Naked Week.

The university I graduated from has an annual tradition of students running nude across campus every night for a week in the middle of February. This was running, not just streaking a short distance. The week would kick off on Monday with a group of brave students bursting out of the library at noon in their birthday suits and end with an evening game of Naked Ultimate Frisbee on Friday or Saturday. Every evening during the week, students would run in different parts of campus, usually sporting silly hats or covered in paint. I participated more than once.

I have fond memories of one particular night in which ninety-one of us students gathered together, stripped down, slathered each other in paint, and ran around the residential quad continuously for a half hour, shortly before midnight. After about five minutes of running, I was tired. But I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I had to keep going — keep up with the group and generate some heat to mask the winter chill against bare skin. I kept going. When it was over, we all high-fived each other, slipped on some clothes, and went home to wash off the paint. I wasn’t feeling faint. My side wasn’t aching. My face was red from the cold, not from being flushed. Most importantly, I felt great!

For some reason, running consistently with a large group of naked people through dorms and up and down stairs and around the quads in the middle of February in the middle of the night was very doable. But I couldn’t run a measly mile under fifteen minutes without throwing up. Maybe it was the only way I could keep myself warm and distracted from the lack of clothing. Maybe I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Maybe it was just fun. I’d do Naked Week every week if I could because it was the only time I enjoyed running!

Ah-ha! That’s why I enjoyed Naked Week. I ran because it was a choice.

No one was telling me I had to run. That’s the change in my mindset that I need.

I will run because I want to.

That would be the difference.

Last week, after thinking about it for months and realizing this, I started running.

I ran three times in the past week. The first time was at the track on a Tuesday afternoon with two neighbors. The track is free for residents and in the middle of town, across the street from the library — one of my favorite places. I was so proud of myself of getting my butt out there and just doing it. I actually felt like I could keep running after the half-hour was over.

The second time I did it, I went for a run in the neighborhood alone on a Saturday morning. I’ve talked about finding new routes and waking up early, so I applied that mentality to running. I put on my athletic clothes, tied my shoes, grabbed my iPhone (and headphones), and stepped out the door. No glasses/contacts, and no hearing aids. Just complete silence in a slightly fuzzy world except for the music flowing through my headphones: Air’s Moon Safari. As I went through the neighborhood, I noticed everything. The lone bird on the telephone wire above my head, the baby rabbit running across the field, the lopsided road signs, the quiet houses, overgrown weeds creeping on the fences, and the warm spring air. It was just me, the world, and a music soundtrack. As cheesy as this may sound, I felt like I was in a movie. Moon Safari was my soundtrack and my eyes were the camera, panning across the scenery. I loved it.

Despite this magical movie feeling, the run was slightly harder. Maybe it was the difference of the ground compared to a track, or the lack of a person next to me, or because my earphones kept falling out of my ears (how do runners keep them from falling out!?), but I felt so accomplished when I finished. I actually ran outside! I joined the club of millions of other morning runners! I can do this!

My third run was also at the track, and I had my fiance join me. He enjoyed it and I’m glad we found another activity we can do together. We will be running together most of the time. He’s another reason I started to run – I want him to get in better shape and what better way to get him to do it than to model it? It’s absurd to expect him to run if I don’t even do it myself.

I was also let in on a little secret:

The best way to start running is by not running.

I do a five-minute walk, a one-minute run, a one-minute walk, a one-minute run, and so on until the last five minute cool-down. Sounds easy, right? It is! Pacing myself helps me avoid burn out and extreme fatigue at the end of the workout. This preparation also allows my body to get used to running so it can reduce the walking time and increase the running time in the next workout. My goal is to be able to run nonstop for thirty minutes after two months of doing this work out, which is the equivalent of a 5K.

A 5K may not seem like much of a goal, but for me, it is. I don’t care what you think. And while many of you are already runners, quite a few of us are just starting out.

How to Overcome the Reluctance to Run:

Watch other people run. Everyone has a friend who’s a runner. That person gets up every morning, runs many miles, competes in marathons, and gushes about how much he or she loves to run. I have those friends too. My biggest motivator was going to the Chicago Marathon last fall to support them, and I was amazed at the effort and sweat that people were putting forth just to cross the line at the end. For most people, it wasn’t about how fast they were going or not being last, it was about the 26.2 mile journey. People were giving their all to run this marathon for fun and succeeding, regardless of any disabilities or roadblocks. What an inspiration!

Just put on your shoes and step out the door. That’s all you have to do. Once you’ve stepped outside, you’ll feel (and look) like an idiot for going back inside without at least getting a quick run in. Just get that foot through the door to get started.

Start small. I used to make the mistake of too much, too soon. Start small. Don’t run right away. Aim for a minute of continuous running or a five-minute work-out. Stretch it longer each time. Be flexible. Consider your options. Don’t do anything you aren’t too comfortable with.

Run with friends. It’s easier to do something when you have support. Encouraging a friend to join you, or asking to join a couple friends is a great way to get started and stick with it. It’s harder to drop out of a commitment when you have someone counting on you. The time also passes quicker when you have someone next to you, whether you carry on a conversation or run in silence.

Stop comparing. Sure, someone else runs faster and better than you. So what? Someone else runs better than them. And you run better than someone else. The sooner you stop comparing to others and thinking to yourself, “Oh, I wouldn’t be able to run X distance in X amount of time like X person,” the sooner you will realize that you can do it. It just takes time and patience. And of course you can’t do it if you don’t at least try!

Download a running application to your phone. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend anything that ties you even more to your smartphone (if you have one), but I downloaded the Get Running (Couch to 5K) app for my iPhone to help myself. The app costs $1.99 (I had some iTunes gift cards) and I think it’s well worth it, considering a gym costs way more. There are many phone applications available for runners – free, and at a small cost. I also downloaded iMapMyRun, a free application that tracks your course. It isn’t a necessary app, but it’s nice for me to see where I am running, how long it takes me, and how many miles I go.

Switch up the schedule. I enjoy a little bit of route, but I love variety. What I do is switch up the schedule so I run at different times in the day, with different people, and in different places. Giving myself the options makes it feel more like a choice and not something forced. This is really important for me and might work for you too. The flexibility also allows me to not feel guilty about not running at the same time every other day. I pick three days in the week that I’m going to run and just make sure I do it at some point in the day. My current days are Thursday, Saturdays, and Mondays. If I feel like running on a Tuesday instead of a Monday, I will do that. There are no rules, unless I want them.

Reward yourself. Who doesn’t love a treat? This could be an activity or a desert or whatever else you love. Just make sure that what you consume doesn’t erase all the effort you’ve just put into running.

Get married. It’s funny how an event like your upcoming wedding can motivate you to get in better shape. I guess it’s all about looking good in that dress or suit and impressing everyone else, eh?

People have been running for years and this is nothing new, but I’ve noticed a surge lately in the amount of people who are getting out of the house and hitting the streets for a morning run. 5Ks are popping up everywhere. I am glad to see this and it motivates me more to get out there. If they can do, I can do it. And if I can do it, you can do it!