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My heart pounded under my cotton T-shirt and the sweat poured off my brow as I struggled to keep my legs moving forward. It’s got to be almost over, I thought. Any second now.
Based on my desperation to be done, you might think I had been struggling for hours and was barreling toward a marathon’s finish line—but on this, my first day running, I was only trying to run for 1 minute without stopping.
One minute. I looked down at the timer on my cellphone and realized with disbelief that I had only been going for 30 seconds and still had 30 more to go. Could someone die from trying to run?
Like many people, I didn’t start running until I was an adult. I finally got off the couch with the help of the aptly named “Couch to 5K” program, which relies on walk-run intervals to take someone from not running at all to completing a 5K in nine weeks.
When I looked at the schedule for the first time, I thought: Oh, this will be easy. I only have to run for 1 minute at a time and then I get a walk break? I can run way farther than that. Um, false. As it turns out, I had about 20 seconds of running in me before my heart felt like it was about to explode—and that was just the first interval. It seemed impossible that I would survive seven more on that first day.
As you might have guessed, I did survive the first day and many days of running and training after that. Now that I’ve raced a number of marathons and halfs, many people assume I’ve been an athlete my whole life or that I always loved running. Nothing could be further from the truth. Running never came naturally to me, and the road to becoming a runner hasn’t exactly followed a straight line.
There are many reasons why I run today, but the one that kept me coming back for more in those early days was the sense of accomplishment I got every time I completed another workout in my training plan. There’s something intoxicating about feeling as if you’re about to collapse, like you can’t possibly run one more step, let alone another minute—and then doing it anyway.
The addictive property of running is the only logical way to explain how a run-hating couch potato went from running for 30 seconds at a time to finishing 50 marathons—nothing else makes sense. As Rick James once said, “Running [author’s note: or something like that] is a hell of a drug.”