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My Running Story

I’ve always been reasonably fit. When we were kids, we were encouraged to be athletic, but I wasn’t much for team sports, but I was all right at swimming. So between the ages of 8 and 14, I was on the swim team, practicing 2-5 times per week and competing every so often against others in my own age group in the Chicago area. I won a lot of second-place ribbons; not so many firsts. That was okay. I felt good about it, and myself.

Then at 15, I went to college, and my school didn’t have any sports teams. The next college I went to there were sports teams, but no swim team. So I quit swimming, but not before I decided to give my first triathlon a go.

Now, the Pagosa Lakes High Tri is a medium distance triathlon, about twice the length of a sprint distance tri. It started with a 10K+ (7 mile) run.

I’d never been much of a runner. Illinois is one of the few US states that requires daily physical education until grade 12, but that was about it, apart from a short stint on the cross-country running team in middle school and the track team in high school. Swimming was my thing and I figured, how hard could the rest be?

Let me tell you, at 15, I didn’t really have a concept of how long 10K was. I mean, sure, I knew it was 6.2 miles. But I certainly couldn’t run the whole thing. It must have taken me well over an hour.

That was followed by a 20K+ (14 mile) bike, which it involved my first trail experience, and I remember using the brakes a lot because I was terrified of the rocks and roots.

And then finally, the swim. Half a mile. About 900 yards. Whew. Finally something I was good at. When I finished, I could barely move. I crawled out of the pool and sunk against the wall at the awards ceremony and raffle prize giveaway that was probably at least half over. I was, of course, dead last.

Amazingly enough, that experience didn’t sour me on triathlons. At 17 I decided to do my next triathlon. At this point my workout regimen consisted of spending up to two hours a day, several times a week, on the elliptical machine at the university fitness center, reading classic works of literature. I still had no running experience, so I got myself a pair of running shoes and started running laps on the track, but I didn’t have a whole lot of patience for it. It was so boring without the books. But in any case, I competed in Tri The Rim , the university-hosted triathlon. This was a sprint distance triathlon: 500 yard swim followed by 11-mile bike and at last a 5K run. And I did not come in last place!

But just before turning 18, I got my first boyfriend. And suddenly reading classic works of literature on the elliptical machine didn’t seem as important. And I stopped going to the gym, and I didn’t do another triathlon. I did start hiking and mountain biking, though.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve moved to Chicago. I’m looking to make a life change, so I seize the opportunity of no longer being at altitude and decide to take up running. And I just jump right in, running every day or close to it, slowly building up my endurance.

Fast forward another year and I’m in Thailand. I’ve taken a few months of running at times, but it’s always been there for me when I needed it. And I hear about this marathon. And I decide: that’s it, I’ll run a marathon. Why not?

So I register for the Bangkok Marathon , which is in November. And in October, I take off and start my cycle touring trip around southern Thailand. And then I end up quitting my school teaching job, so I’m free to continue the bike trip, so I do. I finish the rest of the way from Phuket to Bangkok (more or less) with a few days left to spare before the race. And I haven’t run for nearly two months, but on the other hand I have cycled up to 100k+ per day, so I’m not too fussed.

Again, once I cross the finish line, having run more or less the whole thing (as in, no walking breaks, although I did take several bathroom breaks, as something I ate before the race did NOT agree with me). My hips threatened to seize up, my knees threatened to give out, but all that mattered was that I finished. I had done something I wasn’t sure if I could do. I had done something most people can’t. And that was enough.

And it was days before I could properly walk, and then it was time to hop the a bicycle again and cycle up north around Chiang Mai, my last exploration around Thailand before going back to Pattaya to do my dive instructor course.

And when I got there, it was full of distractions. This time, I wasn’t working, as I had managed to save up enough during my three months’ work as an English teacher to cover my living expenses for the next few months, including the bike trip. So I made friends, and again I got a boyfriend, and again there was no more running for me.

Fast forward a couple years to 2013, and the boyfriend is now my husband, and we’re living in Iceland. And I find the marathon.is website, and I decide I’m going to run the half marathon in June and the marathon in August. In the meantime, I’ve not managed to make running a daily habit since 2009, although in a good week I’d get 2 or 3 days in. In a bad month I wouldn’t run at all.

But I did it, the Suzuki Miðnæturhlaup half marathon. After the finish, I could pretend to walk normally, but it was an act. I was sore for days afterward. But I’d done it, and in less than 2 hours, without a single pause, and I was proud of myself.

And then August 21 rolls around, and my birthday is in 2 days and the Reykjavík Marathon in 3, and I’ve been sick for about 3 weeks with some sort of respiratory infection, and I decided, for the first time, that I don’t have to kill myself to prove myself. Or maybe I decide that I’ve got nothing to prove. So I run my first 10K, and 11 years after my failed 10K at the High Tri, and manage to run the whole thing. Not the fastest I’ve ever run a 10K, which would have placed me in the top 25 for women, but in the top 100 . And I’m happy with that.

Let me tell you, it sure was a nice thing not to be dead tired and achy afterwards! In fact, I felt so good I went out dancing and stayed out after midnight.  The marathon will still be there next year.

Like many other women, I struggle with weight and body issues. I weigh about 6 kilos (14 pounds) more now than I did when I was in peak physical condition, when I was cycling for 2-3 hours per day. But even so, it is enough to remember that I have completed two triathlons, a marathon, a half marathon, and a 10K. Running, and competing, even though it’s just against myself, reminds me that I am strong, I am tough. And damn does it make my calves look good…

Written by Jessi

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