For most of my life, I feared running. It all started in second or third grade when we had to do the Presidential Fitness Test, a round of activities, including push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, the sit and reach and, worst of all, running a mile, that made me feel like the fat kid people made fun of me for being.
I could do some push-ups and sit ups, completed the sit and reach (Because all you have to do is sit and reach.) and couldn’t ever do one pull-up, but the activity I hated most was running the mile. It wasn’t so much the running. I played sports throughout my childhood and teen years, both organized and disorganized (And by disorganized I mean arguing over every call until someone gave in or got into a fight.) and always competed and enjoyed playing. And for the last ten years, I’ve lifted weights regularly (minus a three-year dry spell when my back, neck and shoulder were in a sailor’s knot). What I hated most about running the mile was knowing that everyone was watching me (I was always last, or close to last, in the run.) and fearing how they’d make fun of me.
My fear of being made fun of for my body during my childhood has been circling through my head since I first accepted the challenge of running the 5K, and, from the beginning, it was a feeling that I wanted to tackle. Months ago, when I began training on the elliptical machine, I purposefully used the one right in front of the street-level window, making my flailing, sweaty body a chubby piece of eye candy for Downtown Seattle. I didn’t enjoy it at first, but as I built up my endurance and fitness and began noticing that no one gave a shit if a fat guy was exercising on the other side of this plexi-glass window, my fear of all the staring, gawking and taunts I’d receive was completely unfounded.
As soon as I stepped on the treadmill though, I was nearly back to the starting line, uncomfortable with the thought of actually running–not just ellipticaling, which, for the record, has nothing on actually running–in front of all these people freaked me the fuck out. Immediately, I flashed-back to my first time ever stepping on a treadmill, which was also my first time in a gym, my junior year of college just before I began a weight training class to fulfill my physical education requirement after I was told I couldn’t take archery for a third time. I went to the gym with my roommate Eli, who was already in pretty good shape, and decided to walk on the treadmill for an hour. Before I even got on, I was sweating because I was so nervous that all the people in the gym were thinking, “Look at this fat fuck in knock-off UFOs and a Wu-Wear t-shirt trying to exercise!” I hadn’t stepped on a treadmill since.
I wasn’t going to let that thinking stop me this time though, and so I started jogging, knowing that Adult Brian would have a come-back to any insult, something Young Brian didn’t. After a warm-up, I started running faster. And faster. And I hated it. And I got a migraine and made tortilla chips my new best friend. And then my thighs bled and my groin ached but never once did I throw up.
After several weeks on the treadmill–and with only two weeks until the 5K–I knew it was time to take my feet to the pavement, so Sunday, with the help of the ever-trusty MapMyRun.com, I ran what amounted to 3.6 miles, about a half mile more than a 5K. (To be honest, I walked about a half-mile–taking a break at the halfway mark where I walked a couple of blocks panting like a hairy dog on a sunny day, and then again about four blocks from my house when it felt like a dirty bomb was nearing explosion in my groin.)
Each time I passed someone on the run rather than feeling uncomfortable, returning to those awful Presidential Fitness Test days where my fitter classmates pointed and laughed at my jiggly core bounding around the gym, I felt free. I wanted to scream at them, “Look at me! I’m running!” but I know that only crazy people yell obvious things like that at strangers.
I won’t say I feel completely at ease with my heaving body in motion; however, through training for this 5K, I have come to understand why for so long I’ve feared running and how liberating it can be to forget what I think everyone is thinking about me and just do it. (Thanks for brainwashing me, Nike.) Young Brian wouldn’t have been able to run a 5K, not just because he was outrageously overweight and out of shape, but because he was so afraid of what people would say about him. Adult Brian doesn’t give a shit.
I guess that’s the cool thing about getting old–and becoming a Bri-liever.