In middle school, I walked the mile in gym class every year.
It was the only thing that kept me from the annual Presidential Physical Fitness Award.
Well, that, and the pull-ups.
But that all changed last weekend when I completed my first 5K.
I didn’t win, but I beat 320 other women.
As I crossed the finish line, I realized that I might have caught the running bug — or developed shinsplints. My rosy outlook on the whole experience has me leaning toward the former.
I’ve always resisted exercise that feels like I’m working out. I’ll choose team sports, yoga and the occasional pick-up game of “horse” over sweating at the gym any day of the week.
But, after training for the past two months, I’ve discovered that running is different than trying to keep up in an aerobics class or struggling to lift weights. There’s a certain sense of camaraderie and encouragement from fellow runners, and at the same time, training is full of self-discovery as I learn to test my limits.
It’s peaceful knowing that, for a few miles, it’s just me and the pavement — and the Ke$ha Pandora station. It’s empowering to reach goals and shave seconds or minutes off my time.
And it was pretty satisfying to complete 3.1 miles to the cheers of the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis volunteers.
I’ll be honest, I signed up for the holiday-themed race out of spite. My boyfriend registered for his first Tough Mudder and said I’d die somewhere between the mud pit and the live wires if I tried to complete it with him.
He’s probably right, but I set my mind to being able to outrun him.
A good friend from Baltimore became my virtual coach. I’d wake up every morning to her texts of encouragement and photos of her course that morning.
I, in turn, sent her photos of the treadmill at the Y, where I did a majority of my training after work (for those who are curious: No, running outside in December is not the same as running on a treadmill in a heated gym).
Last Saturday was our first run together.
We layered, complete with Christmas-themed knee socks, light-up Rudolph noses and antlers. We added jingle bells to our laces.
We danced to “Gangnam Style” with the cow from Chick-fil-a and snapped photos with ladies who piled on the holiday flair. We heard the inspiring stories of those affected by arthritis who have been helped by the thousands of dollars raised every year.
And then we started running.
Sometimes we were fast. Other times we were slow. Sometimes we walked. And one time, I was pretty certain I was going to keel over in the middle of a hill. Mental note: Carb-loading is more than splitting a box of Velveeta Shells & Cheese and a bottle of wine the night before a race.
We dodged and weaved around life-sized Christmas presents and a woman dressed as the lamp from “A Christmas Story” in mile one. Geese hung out in the pond as we made our way from mile two to three. And we were able to set our sights on ladies ahead of us who we wanted to outrun in the homestretch.
I’m pretty sure that red-and-green elf with the Golden Retriever finished long before we did — as did more than 450 other women.
But I finished, which is more than I can say for the majority of my health and fitness goals.
And I’m ready for my next race — when it gets a little warmer out.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a runner in every sense of the word — like the girl who sits next to me and runs 5Ks on her lunch break or the photographer on the other side of the newsroom who celebrates finishing marathons with chicken wings.
But I got out there. And now that I know what to expect, I’m excited about crossing other finish lines — hopefully in less time.
And for that, I’m proud of myself — even if I need to rub Icy Hot on my shins for a few days.
I should probably wait a while before challenging the boyfriend to a road race.
But maybe, just maybe, I’ll win that one next.