Running with the Atlanta Track Club
I ran 6.2 miles today.
Well, technically, I ran 4 miles and walked 2.2 miles, but using the rules of mathematics, since I ran over half the distance, I’m rounding myself up from walking to running.
I’m not exactly the person who’s supposed to run 6.2 miles, or 4 miles, or even 1 mile. I’m a slow, heavy, 40-something woman.
Sometimes, when I doing my slow, steady stride, running so slow that I feel like I’m running backward, I find that my mind still doesn’t quite get what’s happening, and I’ll catch myself thinking, with genuine surprise, “Hey, how are you doing this? You’re running!”
How did I do it? I ran 6.2 miles today because of coaching, specifically, because of the Atlanta Track Club Peachtree-in-Training program.
I never participated in organized sports as a kid. I came from an active family, we hiked, biked, swam, played tennis, but when it came to running, from an early age I figured it just wasn’t for me.
My first experience with “running” was in 6th grade when were sent out to run around the park adjacent to our school, a distance of about a mile. No one ever taught us how to run (I never even imagined such training existed) so basically, I’d try to sprint a mile, and would end up hyperventilating and in pain every time we were sent to run. (Even now, training and participating in group runs with the ATC, I have a moment where I will have a small panic attack and hyperventilate at the beginning of the run, thus the visceral nature of my middle school experience.)
Later I came to realize that there were different ways to run, and that there was some methodology involved, but by the time I figured it out, I thought I was too far past my prime to ever really try.
When I moved to Atlanta in the summer of 1993, one of the first things I heard about was the Peachtree Road Race. I saw coverage on the news and thought, “that would be interesting to be a part of,” but immediately dismissed the idea with the thought, “you’re not a runner–you could never do that.”
For 19 years the idea gnawed at me–Can you live in Atlanta and not do the Peachtree?
With my 20th anniversary as an Atlantan nearing, I decided, the time had come to give it a try.
Admittedly, I waited until I had been selected to participate, but as soon as I knew I was in, I signed up with the ATC Peachtree-in-Training program.
I was first struck by the inclusive nature of the program. Walkers were welcome (that was my Plan B–walk it), and the slow movers were embraced with the speedy ones.
We met once a week for 11 weeks on Saturday mornings at 7:30am, for group runs and educational programs after. I learned about getting the right shoes, hydration, nutrition, preventing injuries and how not to let injuries that you may get stop you from running. Thanks to the support of fantastic coaches, volunteers ready to give up time (and sleep) to help others discover the sport, I learned that there was, indeed, a way to run. They taught me how to monitor my breathing, find my pace, find my stride, how to know when to push myself, and how to know when to back off.
I worried about being the slowest, being the last one back from the group runs, making everyone wait around while I crawled along. I feared being judged by “real” runners, people who would look at me with disdain and think, “What’s SHE doing here?” No coach or team member ever made me feel bad, and, once I learned how I should run, I wasn’t even that far behind.
And what I found, is that being last sometimes has it’s rewards. The biggest cheers are often for that last person across the line.
In the beginning of the program, I always felt that I had to apologize when I would tell someone I was in a running program. I would have to explain, “Well, I actually run intervals with some walking in between,” as though claiming to be a runner was less than truthful.
Thankfully, I got over myself enough to share my feelings with the coaches, and coach after coach shared their personal stories, how he or she had thought they weren’t runners, but then they trained for the Peachtree, and now they run half-marathons and coach newbie runners like me.
We give lots of excuses for not pushing ourselves to try new things, to be our better selves, but the root of all these excuses is often shame–shame that we will fail, shame that we will be judged and humiliated.
There was no shame in this training program, only encouragement and support.
Because of that support, I’ve had the camaraderie of being part of a team, the thrill of accomplishing something I never thought I could, the satisfaction of satisfying a goal set 20 years ago.
So, I fully claim my status as a runner. I may be slow, but I’m moving forward in a rhythmic motion like everyone else, and my runner’s high is as good as the fastest among them.
My hope is to keep training, keep improving, at my own pace, in my own time.
And I hope that many more of those like me, people who feel like they could never run, will give running a try.