I grew up playing sports—lots of sports. From volleyball to softball and soccer to skiing, I was always active. Exercise is something that I have never shied away from. Even when I was no longer playing organized sports in college, I took regular group fitness classes and always prioritized being active. I’ve tried everything from barre to spin to yoga to pilates to HIIT and am open to trying just about anything—anything but running.
In sports, running was always a punishment. If we couldn’t complete the play in the designated amount of time, we had to take a lap. If we couldn’t make the shot, we had to run a suicide. If running didn’t feel like a punishment before, attaching it with the word “suicide” sure did the job. It wasn’t until this summer that I really gave running a try. Not a workout that has a little bit of running in between other activities, but a workout solely dedicated to running.
It all started when I was looking for a workout that I could do with my boyfriend. He wasn’t a fan of the yoga class that I dragged him to or the HIIT workout we tried, but he said he’d give running a shot. It didn’t sound appealing to me at all, especially because I have huge boobs that bounce when I run and make it a really painful experience. But, I did want a workout buddy that lived nearby and one living in my own apartment was pretty convenient! I also loved working with Mirna Valerio on the running guide she put together for us, so I decided if she could do it, I could at least give it a try.
The first few times, we ran for about 10-15 minutes—running for 3 blocks or so, then walking a block, then repeating. I wasn’t a fan, but I stuck with it because I really needed the workout and loved the fact that it was totally free and that I could do it on my own schedule. Running still sucked though, it still felt like a punishment, my boobs still hurt, my heart would pound, and I felt like I could taste blood in the back of my throat.
Then I was on a phone call with my coworker Sarah, a longtime runner, and our Wellness Adviser Louise Green. Sarah told Louise that I had started running. I blushed bright red because I didn’t feel like I was even ready to talk about running with anyone, I still didn’t think it was the right workout for me, and I still hated it. By this point, I had finally discovered a great sports bra that reduced the bounce factor and made running much more comfortable, but I still hadn’t discovered that running was for me.
But Louise was extremely enthusiastic and offered to send me her 5K program, boasting how it was extremely gradual and that I might be surprised by how quickly the body can adapt. I couldn’t turn down this generous offer, even though I really wasn’t convinced I could complete the program or that I even wanted to be a runner. But knowing I had the support of Louise and my coworker was reassuring.
I told my boyfriend about the program and he also wasn’t sure he was ready to train for a 5K—it seemed too daunting. But then he flipped through the program and saw that the first week required intervals of 30 seconds of running coupled with 2 minutes of walking to be completed 8 times. Just about anyone can run for 30 seconds, including us, so we gave it a try. When we were finished, my boyfriend felt so accomplished and was excited to check it off the list. I also got some fancy running shoes to combat my shin splints and I no longer was running in pain.
We stuck with the program consistently until about the 4th week, when we had a trip to Lake Tahoe coming up. I was excited to give running a try at altitude and see what it was like to run somewhere other than my Brooklyn neighborhood, but my boyfriend was not so excited. We did it, but after that, he quickly fell off the program. But I was really liking running at this point. I didn’t want to commit to the 12-week program for just 4 weeks and then let all of that progress disappear, so I stuck with it on my own.
Seasons changed, summer quickly turned to fall, and the days got much shorter. As I watched the leaves in the park change colors almost overnight, I also discovered that running without my boyfriend meant no more running at dusk because I felt uncomfortable running by myself in the dark. With it getting dark so early, I began running before work. As it got colder, I had to figure out the right gear to keep me warm without overheating. But I didn’t let it stop me from sticking with it.
When my aunt’s health took a turn for the worse, I had to fly out to California to say goodbye to her. I ran through my grief in the California sunshine. I came back to New York, far from my family, and I ran through my loneliness. When she passed, I was devastated. I took the day off of work but I didn’t take the day off from my training program because running was the only way to quiet my mind. If I was running, my mind didn’t have to.
When I flew out to my hometown in Northern California and stayed at my parents’ house for her memorial, I went for my run before all of the events started because I knew it would help me process my emotions. I grew up in a house just down the street from hers. When I was walking to warm up, I approached her familiar house with the blue door and the red shutters. I saw her car in the driveway, with its Hello Kitty bumper sticker, and something snapped. I couldn’t breathe at first and then I couldn’t stop crying. I walked it off eventually and then started running. My mind started to slow down as my legs started to warm up. Running had gone from a chore I dreaded, to an item in my emotional toolkit that helped me calm down and process.
When I returned to New York, I kept running. I stuck with the program, and before I knew it, it was time for my first race! When I signed up for the Santa Run, I thought it would be fun to do a festive-themed run—what I didn’t realize though was that I would be given a Santa suit to wear for the run. I convinced my coworker, Sarah, to join me and together, we put on our terribly made felt Santa suits and were off, on my first ever race. My goal was to finish the 5K in under 45 minutes—and I ended up finishing in 41. We celebrated over drinks and brunch.
Sarah asked me what’s next—am I going to run a 10K now? I hadn’t ever considered taking on more than a 5K since that had seemed like such a feat! For now, I will keep running. I don’t need an end goal anymore, I just need to run.
Ashby is a body positive advocate and hosts weekly Facebook Live videos.