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The Case Of The Adult-Onset Runner

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I recently wrote about my first run (ever as an adult). I wasn’t a runner until much later in life—to the point that I have dubbed it a condition: adult-onset running.

Adult-onset running is fun and amazing for many reasons. For someone who has never felt that “runner’s high” until age 30? Whoa. It’s like your first piece of—cake. You want more, you need more—it’s amazing!

And truly, the runner’s high is amazing. Some of us are lucky enough to experience that—at least once in a lifetime, a season, a month, maybe more.

But (and you knew there was one!)…

For those of us who truly come to running as adult-onset runners, the runner’s high and that joy of running might not simply appear in a blissful instant.

In fact, we may ask ourselves questions like:

  • What is the big deal about running?
  • Why does running hurt so much?
  • What is all the fuss about?
  • Why did I let myself get like this…

(The last question is sometimes the very worst of all.)

Once we find our rhythm, running can be the very saving grace we need. We create habits and culture and identities around running. I am training for a half marathon. I am training for an ultramarathon. I am racing this weekend. I am a runner. I am an athlete.

But the bridge between running nirvana and experiencing the true joy that is running can be devastating when first beginning to run as an adult—or when we are just purely out of shape.

The huffing. The puffing. The shin splints. The bruising on the heels from being heavy or running in bad shoes. The really mean voices in our heads. I know this pain. It is the pain of an out of shape, sad, adult-onset runner. It happens, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Here’s the thing: When you do something hard, something soul-burning and painful, and you keep going and don’t give up—you break down the barriers and walls inside yourself. When you have burning lungs, aching joints and the answer to the question “Did I ever run a day in my life?” becomes, “WHO CARES!? I am doing it NOW!,” then you are making progress.

At this time when we are all so focused on instant growth and instant gratification, running is a true test not of where you are, but where you can go. 

Yes, my first run hurt. I will never forget it. While I did not experience anything close to a runner’s high, I did experience something different. I knew that, by learning to run and training to be a runner, I would change. I knew that I was stuck where I was, and I needed more.

In trying to do something hard, I realized that I could do hard things, and I could get better. Through adult-onset running, we gain the small gift that lifetime runners may never have: Learning that achieving that magical runner’s high is indeed worth the wait. And proof of life.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast The Same 24 Hours. Meredith is married with two tweens and writes about all things at Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is due out Fall 2019.