First Steps

Rachel Toor - First StepsLet’s begin by admitting that when you start, it’s bloody awful.

After you lace up your new running shoes for the first time, step into your short shorts with the built-in panties, pull on a tee-shirt made of recycled plastic bottles or some other technical material that will, eventually, start to stink in the armpits no matter how often you wash it, when you head out the door for that debut run, you might feel good for the first few minutes. You might even feel great. You might hear Bruce Springsteen singing that tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

For those first few minutes.

And then everything will start to hurt. Each leg will feel like it weighs eight hundred pounds. You will appreciate oxygen in a way that you only appreciate things once they’re absent. Your heart will pound so hard you’ll think it’s as detectable as the organ in an Edgar Allen Poe story. It will tell the tale of your woe. And you will, make no mistake, feel filled with woe.

You may have been told to start out by walking fast to warm up and then running for a limited time, four or five minutes, maybe. Alternate walking and running, you may have been told. But you never knew minutes could last so long. You never appreciated how nice it is to walk. You can breathe when you walk. Breathing is a good thing.

Your eyes may water. You may make wheezing noises. You may think you’ve coughed up a chunk of your lung.

All that money you spent on buying the right gear, the right clothes and shoes and maybe even a new big old plastic GPS watch? Wasted. Halfway through your first run you decide you’re going to give it all away. That new tee-shirt won’t have a chance to get stinky, not from your pits.

Somehow, though, you make it through. You’re out there for however long you thought you should be. Maybe ten minutes, maybe twenty, but you’ve done it. You feel a little good about yourself. You think maybe you could have gone longer.

Until the next morning when it hurts to get out of bed. You hobble around and nurse yourself with ice cream and think, What a silly idea that was. The next day is even worse. How can you be more sore the day after the day after you’ve run?

But for whatever reason—stubborn pride, those few extra pounds around your middle, an upcoming reunion—you put on those sporty clothes again and venture out again.

It’s easier this time. You walk a little faster, run a little slower, and it feels almost good. Twenty minutes goes by and you think, Hey, this isn’t so bad.

You go out again. And again.

Slowly, running becomes something you do.

Some days it’s good. Other days you can’t believe how hard it is. Some days, you have to trick yourself to get out the door. You don’t want to go. So you say, Maybe I’ll just put on my running clothes. You say, Maybe I’ll just go for ten minutes. But once you’re out, you’re kind of happy. You like the way the air feels against your skin. You notice the cries of birds you can’t identify. Your body begins to recognize the motion, the clip clip clip of your feet on the pavement, on the trail, on the earth. You settle into breathing.

Sometimes, you let your mind wander. You find yourself thinking of people you’ve left behind. Or conversational topics you want to broach. You end up figuring out the solution to a problem you hadn’t quite realized you had.

Sometimes, you put on headphones and run to the rhythm of a band you love, listen to a singer whose voice jabs you in the heart. The chatter in your head stills. You’re able escape yourself.

Sometimes, you run with a friend. You’re able to talk. While running! You might end up going farther than you thought you could. You might make a date to go again. It might become a weekly ritual.

Rachel Toor - Run

Sometimes, you want it to hurt. You want to make whatever emotional pain you’re feeling—the breakup of a relationship, a death, a failure—manifest. You want to take it out on your body. You find you enjoy running so hard you think you might bleed from your eyeballs. You tell yourself that old German dude was right: whatever doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. You pull out a bunch of other clichés about sports you’ve heard and realize that clichés are almost always true.

Sometimes, you have a bad run. You will not be able to account for it. You will have done nothing different since your last run, but sometimes you just have a bad run. Even after you’ve been doing this for years and know to expect it, you are, nevertheless, always surprised when it happens.

Eventually, your body hardens and transforms. You will look down at your legs one day and not recognize them. When did they become so muscular? When did the jiggly bits stop jiggling? Where did those extra pounds around your middle go?

Eventually, you begin to recognize other runners. You run past them on the street and raise a hand in greeting, which they return. You notice people wearing those big ugly plastic watches with their civilian clothes. You start to read to race shirts.

Eventually, you might even start to enter races. You will be surprised that you get faster at each one. You’ll try different distances. You’ll wonder: Could I run a marathon? You’ll realize that you could. Of course you could. You might even want to go farther and sign up for an ultramarathon. You see the possibilities.

And eventually, running will stop being just something you do and instead it will have become a part of who you are. A runner.

Photo Credit: Dan Flores (second picture)

RACHEL TOOR is a distance runner who used to be an “either/or” kind of person. She thought: either you were a nerdy little egghead, or you were an outdoorsy jock. She spent the first thirty years of her life indoors with a book. Then she started running... more »

Comments

  1. Kim Rogers says:

    I see you’re still in love with your watch;-)

    Nice piece. You captured it. Of course.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  2. Anne Ireland says:

    Beautiful and inspirational piece, Rachel. How did you know about ice cream in the morning instead of working out? You? No way!

    Like: Thumb up 3

  3. doreen frost says:

    GREAT article. ALL SO true and exactly how you feel when you first start out. I have only been running for a couple of weeks now and you described, to a tee, what I have been going through!!

    Like: Thumb up 4

  4. Great article! All so true.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  5. jean says:

    You captured the feelings and emotions so well, Rachel. Thanks for posting!

    Like: Thumb up 2

  6. Heather says:

    This is EXACTLY how it happens. Very reassuring to read as I am currently “starting over”. :)

    Like: Thumb up 1

  7. imdb says:

    Motivational words; the picture makes me scream ‘feed that poor woman!’ LIke runway models, super skinny is not motivational…at all. :(

    Like: Thumb up 0

  8. Carly says:

    I. Love. This. Post! I read it over and over again because it’s so well done. And then I read it over and over again because it took me down memory lane through my tranformation from overweight and depressed to joyful and running and I smiled. And when I went for a run today, I replayed it in my mind when it started to hurt. This post is going to stick with the runners, the becoming-a-runners and the thinking-about-becoming-a-runners for awhile-great piece and beautiful pics too. Could I do a marathon? I’m starting to think maybe!

    Like: Thumb up 2

  9. Trailmomma says:

    Great article. I am envious of your bio and all your accomplishments. Well done.

    Like: Thumb up 1

  10. angie says:

    One word..EXACTLY!

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  11. Katie says:

    I started running a month before by 39th birthday. Actually, I started walking. 2 miles… to the school and back. Then running, buidling very slowly. My ultimate goal — Not to turn 40. Not ever. 7 years later I now run almost every day. I’ve run a half marathon. Weekend 5 mile trail runs with my dog. 4.5 miles on the sidewalks in town in the 5am dark of early fall and winter mornings. 7 years later I am still not 40. Not when I run. A day started any other way is not a great day. What an amazing piece. In every line I felt exactly my running experience. Thank you so much for sharing this. I run alone, but we are not alone at all.

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  12. Rachel Toor says:

    Thanks for the kind words, people. When I expressed hurt about the person who attacked me for being too skinny, one of my friends had this smart response: “I noticed that comment and my guess was that the person mistook you for someone intentionally trying to be very thin. Clearly he/she has not seen you eat. I thought it was sad because I’d bet that person would never dare say something like that to someone who has a few extra pounds on their frame. It must not have occurred to the commenter that your body tends to be thin just like some other bodies tend to be heavy, and they thought it was PC to call you out on it… when it’s really just as inappropriate as calling someone fat. We should all appreciate the bodies we have… especially the ones that run as fast as yours!”

    I hope that at some point, women will be able to support each other no matter what they choose to do, or how they end up looking. My fantasy was that this site could be the place where that might happen. I’m going to keep hoping for that.

    Like: Thumb up 16

  13. cake says:

    Today is my rest day …but not anymore..as I read this post today it inspired me to go out
    I started running 4 yrs back and now I LOVE it (most of the days) and somedays I just HATE it
    Running is my escape from my busy life and it not only works for my body but also works for my brain …Keep Running !!!

    Like: Thumb up 1

  14. Carol says:

    Well written article! I just started running (more like walking really fast) 3 weeks ago and I can totally relate to the first half of your article. I’m buying my big old plastic GPS watch soon. :)

    Like: Thumb up 1

  15. Ai says:

    “I hope that at some point, women will be able to support each other no matter what they choose to do, or how they end up looking” – is such a great message!!!

    This was truly an inspiring article! You are amazing! I agree that we – as women, as runners – ought to support one another. I am a “newbie” to the running world, training to do my first marathon in December and it isn’t always easy to push myself through my daily runs. This article has helped me reignite the passion and fire I need to continue this process. I am excited to get a copy of your book too and a big old plastic GPS watch!

    Like: Thumb up 1

  16. Sandee says:

    WOW, this is hands down the best article posted this year! Thank you Rachel XOXOXO

    Like: Thumb up 2

  17. This article took me back to my first days of running. Those days evolved into weeks, and then months, and then years. What you said is absolutely true – running has become a part of who I am. I am a runner! Loved this post :)

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  18. Teresa says:

    Six months ago I was not a runner. But something inspired me to sign up for a half-marathon training class. The first couple weeks were agony, exactly as you described. Then it started feeling okay. And each run was a little better. I went a little farther and did less walking/more running. A foot injury got in my way, but I’m working through it. And I’m still running. The race is in four weeks and I’m actually looking forward to it! I AM a runner.

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  19. Mallory says:

    Thank you for this! I started running regularly (2-3 times a week) almost a year ago and I’ve come a long way from where I started, just about dying from jogging for about a mile to being able to easily run 2-3 miles but, like you mentioned, I still have really hard days and I was beginning to wonder if I just wasn’t made to be a runner. But, after reading this, I feel much better knowing that even advanced runners still have hard days. I’ve had difficulty motivating myself to run more than 2-3 times/wk and also to run outside vs. on a treadmill, both of which I think would help break through the plateau I’ve encountered. Your article has inspired me to keep on and push myself further – thanks!

    Like: Thumb up 1

  20. Rachel Toor says:

    Lest anyone think it always gets easier, for the record, I had one of my worst runs ever recently. It was 19 miles, with 4,500 of elevation gain, and I was with two really strong ultra-dudes. I bonked before we got to the top of the (now snowy–this was in Montana) peak, and could barely run on the way back down. It took 4.5 hours to get home. Fortunately, I have kind friends and they waited for me, as I’ve waited for them when they had bad runs. It doesn’t mean that I’m no longer a runner, just that I had a really tough run. And even then, when the scenery is spectacular and the company is good, it’s never that bad. So just keep going, girls. It’s gets better, and sometimes it gets hard again. And then it gets better. But it’s all good. It’s all good.

    Like: Thumb up 3

  21. Lori W says:

    Thank you for this brilliant article. You are a talented and positive person with a refreshing writing style. Oh the places you will go …….!

    Like: Thumb up 1

  22. Denise says:

    I am new to running and looking forward to the day, I can run and not run out of breath! The day when the jiggles are gone, and I can wear the form fitting running clothes.
    Your article is very informative and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

    Like: Thumb up 1

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