It’s All About The Journey

I’m going to let you in on my journey.  I’ve been training for the Chicago Marathon.  That’s right, a marathon.  And it’s quickly approaching: 10-10-10.

This has been quite the adventure for me.  I’m not a runner.  Never have been.  A 5 K wasn’t even on my radar, so definitely not a marathon!

That all changed after I met  Bernie Salazar, who is a former at-home winner of The Biggest Loser. I met Bernie at a conference where we were both speaking.  At a dinner the night before, Bernie talked passionately about his transformation after losing 130 pounds.  He’s a great ambassador for the show — even though I must admit I’m not a tremendous fan of The Biggest Loser (or Jillian Michaels, if you recall).

But that doesn’t really matter.  I’m a big fan of Bernie and that’s what counts.  Over dinner that night, Bernie inspired me to train with him for the Chicago Marathon.  He took away all of my “I can’ts” and made me believe that this was a possible goal for me.  Why not me?

Bernie helped make it easy for me to get started, including signing me up with a tremendous group Chicago Endurance Sports, which offers a run-walk training program.  The revelation that I could use a combination of running and walking made it all seem doable.  It’s a method developed by former Olympian Jeff Galloway and it has opened up the sport to a lot of non-runners like me.  Otherwise, a marathon truly wouldn’t be accessible.

Tara Parker-Poke wrote about her experience running her first marathon last year in the New York Times:

The main benefit of the run-walk method is that it eases your body into exercise, makes marathon training less grueling and gives muscles time to recover, reducing the risk of injury.  Walk breaks are an ideal way for new runners and older, less fit and overweight people to take part in a sport that would otherwise be off limits.

I loved Tara’s article A marathon run in the slow lane and her defense of running slow as a back-of-the-packer.  Her t-shirt for the race read, “Slow Is The New Fast.”  It was a wonderfully up-lifting article, yet it made me realize that some people believe slow runners like me have “disrespected the distance” and have ruined the marathon’s mystique.

An earlier article in the New York Times addressed the controversy, Plodders have a place, but is it a marathon?

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984.  “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran  marathon, but not anymore.  Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?'”

Ouch, that hurts.

3076148747_c315913819_oIt’s true that marathons around the country are getting slower, as more charity runners and run-walkers take part.  In 1980, the average marathon time was about three and half hours for men and about four hours for women, according to Running USA.  Today, the averages are 4:16 for men and 4:43 for women.

John Bingham, a runner known as the Penguin, is credited with starting the slow running movement in the 1990s.  He told the NY Times:

“I have had people say that I’ve ruined the sport of running, but what I’ve been trying to do is promote the activity of running to an entire generation of people,” he said.  “What’s wrong with that?”

What is wrong with that?

Bingham is a “celebrity coach” with Chicago Endurance Sports and is married to CES co-founder Jenny Hadfield, who has been a tremendous encouragement to me during my journey (along with my amazing run-walk coach Holly, age 65!).

Bingham’s writings are incredibly inspirational:

“Through running, I create myself as I have always wanted to be. Nothing in my experience was as powerful as crossing the finish line of my first race. With that single step, I overcame a lifetime of unkept promises to myself.”

Perhaps my favorite line of his:

“The miracle isn’t that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Ok, so I had the courage to start. I’m still terrified of the race.  But it has been a fantastic journey and I’ll do what it takes to cross the finish line — no matter what how long it takes me. I almost never got started because I didn’t see myself as a runner.  I don’t look like I could run a marathon.  I only thought about all the reasons not to even try.

I had to get over the idea that I’m not an elite runner.  I’m never going to finish at the front of the pack.  But is that a reason not to participate at all?  I’m disheartened by the criticism of slow runners.  Not for myself, but for all the people who will never get off the couch.

We have to make physical activity feel accessible to all people — no matter what their skill level.  Getting started can be the hardest part and often a vision of perfection will prevent us from even taking that first step.  I think that’s true with exercise and with weight loss.  People can get so hung up on an unattainable goal that they simply throw in the towel.  I think we need to inspire people to be active and eat healthier in ways that work for them.  It may mean taking small steps.  But we need to make people feel that they can do it.

So that’s my story.

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