The body still works

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2012

How someone who dreaded running, learned to love it.

There’s nothing quite as empowering as the experience of having triumphed over something you never thought you’d be able to do. Such was my euphoria a month ago when I crossed the finish line of the Times Colonist 10K run, feeling tired but strong and probably grinning from ear to ear.

I’ve never thought of myself as a runner, not even in the days when I was an ill-trained member of my high school’s ragtag track team. I never liked the burn in my legs, the weight of exhaustion on my lungs, the nauseating thickness in my throat—all of which I took to be signs of my body’s demand to cease and desist. Over the years I easily brushed off many invitations to take up running, including those from a daughter for whom flying on her feet has long been a powerful elixir.  

“I’m not a runner,” I would remind her cheerfully. “Let’s have tea instead.”

But all that changed last fall when Willa, my trusted friend and walking partner for more than a decade, divulged her desire to run in the next TC10K. She’d done it before but was looking for a training buddy this time around and, truth be told, I did owe her a favour or two. (That’s not the reason she asked, by the way.)

“Well, okay,” I said with some trepidation. “I suppose I could see how it goes.” We agreed to start training in January, coincidentally the perfect time to shed holiday calories. We discussed joining a clinic, but I knew I’d be more committed if we stayed within the parameters of our established walking routine instead of trying to wring yet more time out of the day. For years we’d walked every weekday morning. Now Monday, Wednesday and Friday became run days.

Guided by Willa’s old clinic notes, we began a slow walk/run strategy. Though it left us a little winded, a little sore in the butt and rickety in the bones, we found ourselves none the worse for the wear after the first few weeks. That revelation was both enlightening and encouraging.

Signing up for the event was a milestone moment, for me at least. I felt committed, as if I had signed a pledge of some sort. No more running to “see how it goes.” We were determined to train enough so that we could comfortably run the distance without stopping.

As per clinic instructions, we increased our run times so gradually that our bodies hardly seemed to notice, which, in retrospect, is a clever training strategy. The biggest obstacles were more mental than physical: “They want us to run non-stop for 30 minutes next week? They’re trying to kill us,” we’d complain to each other with feigned indignation. But come Monday we’d meet on the trail nonetheless and discover that the next level was within reach. Steadily we grew stronger and more confident. In the beginning I had dreaded the run days but now found myself looking forward to them, a development I could not have foreseen. I loved the sensation of running, the beauty of the trails in the morning light, and the deep state of relaxation that always followed.

We knew things were on track when we accomplished a trial run around Elk/Beaver Lake two weeks before the race date. But still I had pre-race jitters. What if I got bowled over and trampled in the sea of 13,000 runners? Even worse, what if I let Willa down by running out of steam halfway through? We’d pledged to cross the finish line together.

In the end we found our pace and enjoyed the party atmosphere along the way. There was so much encouragement from the crowd that we couldn’t help but be buoyed along, over hill and dale and—eventually—the finish line. We’d been passed by nine- and ninety-year-olds, but it didn’t matter, we were jubilant. In just a few months our uncertain steps had morphed into a comfortable 10K run. The rush of conversion hit me then and, like any earnest convert, I feel driven to spread the good news: If I can do this, then it’s within the reach of most people. With quality footwear, a loyal buddy and a sensible training regimen, just about anyone can make this event their own.

As for Willa and me, we plan to continue running and hope to be back on the start line next year. It would be great to see you there too.

Trudy later learned that April Caverhill, the talent behind the illustration on this page every month, also ran the 10K event. “I adore running,” April says, and it must be true since she’s been doing it for more than 20 years. Congratulations, Pardner!