To ring in the New Year, I ventured to Colorado with my two best friends from college, Breanne and Alicia, to visit Breanne’s family at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. As I emerged from the airport to see a valley surrounded by white-capped mountains, I knew that I couldn't forget the promise I made to myself: that I would continue my couch to 5K training.
After adjusting to the altitude, we embarked on a hike up the Manitou Springs Incline. This trail in the Rockies is an intense cardio workout used by the nearby Olympic Training Center and for Army/Air Force training. It has a 68% steep grade and gains over 2,000 feet from the bottom to the peak. We took a lot of breaks, but whenever I attacked the next step with a vengeance, my friends joked, “Wow, Tara is a runner now. She’s like a different person who loves exercise.” But my head was choking out the same complaints as always: “Does it really matter if I finish this? If I bail out before the top, I will still have gotten a lot of exercise. Does this workout really matter to me at all?"
It's always hard to keep going when my mind reaches that place, but my confidence in myself as a newly-born runner kept me going up, up, up. When we reached the top, wheezing and sweating in the winter sun, the view was worth it. We took another path down the mountain, and my tired, klutzy legs tripped me up three times, resulting in a few bum-slides down the mountain.
After that climb, I was sore for days in places I didn’t know I could be sore in. My ankles? The side of my butt? I decided to recover by taking a break from running for a few days, but we stayed active by hiking through the beautiful local parks and doing ab workouts while we watched Rocky. (Though I did miss running a bit as I watched Stallone padding the morning streets of Philadelphia.)
I told my electronic 5K coach that I had to take a break for a few days because I was adventuring in the Colorado Rockies, and he had to be okay with it (because he’s not real, of course.) But it felt good to be able to allow myself a short break and not feel guilty about it because I was engaging in plenty of other types of exercise.
On the fifth day in Colorado, I resumed my running with Week Four. Breanne and her sisters took me to the military gym on post, where I tried not to cower at the jacked athletes running beside me on the indoor track, or Breanne’s track-star sister passing me, her legs graceful as a gazelle’s. The workout was 34 minutes long and included a cumulative of fifteen minutes of running. I felt silly running with the soldiers, but Breanne, who has been running for years (I’ve cheered her on in a few half-marathons), said I looked good with my Yankee hat shielding my eyes and my legs pumping. That was a great compliment, even if was one your best friend gives just because they’re your best friend. I still think I probably look as silly as Phoebe Buffay when I run.
When I got home to Long Island, I embarked on Day Two of the week. Luckily it was before the cold front hit, so it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit when I set out with my sister to do a loop around the neighborhood. Pretty soon, though, a steady drizzle began. I have never run in the rain before, but I have heard from runner-friends that it is a religious experience in its own way. They were right—with the rain surrounding you, encasing you in your own world, cooling off your burning skin and propelling you ahead—it feels wonderful. As my sister and I approached the Mount Doom hill in my neighborhood, I psyched myself up and we somehow managed to run the whole way up it.
This workout included my first five-minute run without a break, and the routine had me repeat it twice. After the first time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do the second, but with the nice three-minute walk I was allotted in between, I was ready when the second five-minute run came along. And my sister barely ran ahead of me! (She had a cold that day, but I'm still going to count this is a personal victory.)
When the arctic cold front set in this week, I knew I would not be able to complete my run outside in nine-degree weather. So for day three I headed back to the treadmill in Brooklyn. As I walked to the YMCA, I sidestepped the sad Christmas trees on the curb, stripped of their jolly decorations and waiting to be picked up and thrown away. I thought of how this is usually the time of year when people begin a program like the Couch to 5K, as part of a health resolution. I encourage all the people who would rather be watching Breaking Bad than sprinting in the cold to get up and try this program. Reward yourself with some Netflix afterwards. The workouts are so gradual that you will barely even notice as you evolve into a runner.
This final run of the week required two five-minute runs and two three-minute runs, this time with smaller breaks in between. My lung endurance seemed ready for this, but my shins complained loudly. I haven’t ever experienced shin splints before, but I hear that a lot of beginner runners face this problem, so I’m sure I will be able to overcome it. I ran through the pain though, pretending the "walkers" from The Walking Dead were chasing me, ready to feast on my non-zombie flesh!
On the third day of Week Four, the app told me I had reached the halfway point in my training! I’ve heard you’re not considered a "real" runner by some until you can run for fifteen minutes without a break. Hopefully I’ll be there soon! Do I get a badge for that, too?