Courage to start over

Once again, the treadmill has failed to kill me.

I’ve been trying to succeed at “Couch To 5K” for about three years now. It’s pathetic. It’s beyond pathetic, and yet I think I’ve got plenty of good excuses. I started and then stopped because we thought I had heart issues, and then different heart issues (turns out I didn’t have heart issues, but it took two doctors to figure it out) and then a sick kid and then an ankle injury and then asthma (I love you, Inhaler!) and then getting sick again and then two kids needing endless rounds of doctors and one being in the hospital. That one still isn’t back home.


On Monday, I snapped. In the middle of all the crap flying around in my life, I just snapped, and I drove to the gym saying to myself, “I’m going to get on the treadmill for an hour. I’m going to run until it hurts. I don’t care.”

Which I proceeded to do. At a dead-slow pace with more walking than running, I did 4.3 miles in 60 minutes (and the crowd goes wild) and came home aching. I didn’t know you could run so much your ribs hurt, but apparently you can.

Whenever it hurt, I’d think, “GOOD.” Apparently I deserve it.

I hauled myself back to the gym the next morning during the only free half-hour I’d have, and I ran again.

Today I did another hour. 4.6 miles, longer stretches of runs. And it hurts. GOOD. I guess I deserve it.

Back before my first 5K, when my biggest fear was not a heart attack or being unable to breathe but rather that people would laugh at me for thinking this out-of-shape body could run, someone recommended The Courage To Start: A Guide To Running for Your Life. The author refers to himself as The Penguin, not the Batman villain but someone who runs slowly and steadily, as if his knees are tied together. He says he’s finished many a race in last place, but what matters is not when you finish but rather that you had the courage to start.

Later he narrows it down even further: the fact that you had the courage to start again. Because (rough paraphrase) running isn’t a linear thing, where you start and you learn and you keep going. You’re going to hit brick walls and have to start again and again, sometimes back from the zero point. And every time, it takes courage you didn’t know you had to start over.

That’s certainly the metaphor for my writing career, so it might as well be the metaphor for my exercise program as well.

This week, I started over again. I know 30 minute runs don’t do anything to improve me. I really need 45 minutes before I start improving in stamina or speed. 60 minutes didn’t kill me, as it turns out. I just turned off my brain and kept going, and when it hurt, I thought to myself, “Good.”

Good. It means you are alive. In the middle of a whole lot of stress, people told me to pamper myself and be gentle and take it easy, and instead I decided to double my workout and then do it every day. There’s some kind of lesson here for me, but I’m not sure I have the courage to learn it, so I’ll just keep running.


  1. Elizabeth D.

    Reading this makes me ache to run, too. I have never run a day in my life, and I’m pretty sure if I attempted 60 minutes, I’d collapse halfway through and roll right off the end of the treadmill. Yet I still long to push myself, to force a change, to break through all my own stupid insecurities and push until it hurts. Maybe I can do this metaphorically, in other ways. Anyway, loved this post. Keep running!

  2. Jennifer

    I don’t know if this would appeal to you, but Zombies, Run! is my favorite running app.

    They have a couch to 5k program that’s really good, and then three seasons of missions to keep you going.

    1. Jane (Post author)

      I don’t have a smartphone that does apps. 🙁 But I’ve heard that’s a very fun app and really motivates people. Maybe it should motivate me to buy a phone.

  3. Jane (Post author)

    Thanks, Elizabeth! Have you seen the Couch To 5K program? It starts you off with sixty seconds of running followed by ninety seconds of walking. Alternate that way for half an hour, and keep that up for a week. Next week is 90 seconds of running followed by two minutes of walking. Eventually you’ve got nice long stretches of running and short walking recovery periods, and eventually the final step is to be able to run for 20 minutes. I’ve never managed to get to that part. :#) I tended to max out at about 10 minutes running, but that was before I had good control of my asthma.

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