Prior to Hurricane Sandy blowing into town, another monumental event took place in our nation’s capital last weekend. The 37th annual Marine Corps Marathon was held Sunday morning, with runners from all over the country coming to conquer their 26.2 miles. Though I wasn’t among the thousands that completed the marathon this week, running has been a crucial stepping stone on my path towards a healthier life.
When I first started my healthy journey — one that has thus far culminated in a 60-pound weight loss and a total turnaround of my life — the thought of me running was something that I actively scoffed at. It was ludicrous to think that something I had spent my entire life dreading (the one-mile run in gym class was essentially the bane of my teenage existence) could possibly end up being something I’d end up seriously pursuing. But between 2010, when I took my first, highly-labored steps, and 2012, when I worked my way up to a 200-mile relay race across coastal Massachusetts, something changed in me. I became a runner.
I started the same way as everyone else: one step at a time. The Couch-to-5K program was my plan of choice, and I can say from personal experience that it did work for me. The program is a nine-week, three-time-a-week training plan that consists of combined intervals of walking and running. It starts with 60 seconds of jogging for every 90 seconds of walking, for a total of 20 minutes. As the plan goes on, you slowly increase the ratio of running to walking, until you are eventually able to run without walking at all.
In November of 2010, I conquered my very first 5K — 3.1 miles — during a Turkey Trot event around the Tidal Basin. I finished in around 38 minutes, and to this day, it remains one of the proudest moments of my life.
Running is not for everyone. In fact, after the grueling relay race that I participated in back in May of this year, I took a bit of a break from long distance running. My distance of choice is now 5K or less. But I still have a very fond place in my heart for participating in races. My intention is never to win, of course, but to simply have fun while being active — a feat that is not always easily accomplished.
The camaraderie, the excitement, the cheering that you experience during a race can push you a long way, and will make you feel more accomplished than sitting on the couch watching yet another marathon on TLC ever could.
I highly encourage everyone to participate in at least one 5K in their lifetime. November is an especially great month to do so, since the weather is cool but not freezing and there are Thanksgiving- and Holiday-themed events all over the place. Many of these family-friendly events are proclaimed “Fun Run” events, where running for time and to achieve elite personal records are not factors. If you’re just starting out at the very beginning of the Couch-to-5K program, look ahead to January or February instead. Winter running is something I actually enjoy, because I get so easily overheated running in warmer weather. And what better way to kick off next year’s New Year’s resolution than with a race?
No matter how you decide to try out it, if you decide to at all, just remember to have fun with it. Getting started is, without a doubt, the hardest part, but I will tell you: There is no feeling quite like sprinting over that finish line.
Gretchen Powell is a fitness and healthy living blogger in Falls Church. She is not a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical doctor, and a medical professional should be consulted before undertaking dramatic diet changes. For more about Powell’s weight-loss journey, visit honeyishrunkthegretchen.com.