It began with a dream. Not the lofty, heartfelt, pie-in-the-sky ones that Eleanor Roosevelt spoke of, but an actual dream I had one night. In it, I awoke in some dorm-like building, apparently away for a work conference. I threw on some sneakers and headed out to the surrounding suburban neighborhood, running up and down hills freely and seamlessly. I was amused as I awoke from this dream. The last time I’d run with any purpose was 1996, my senior year of high school when a cross country team was formed. I joined out of curiosity, and was terrible at it. As a senior, I was demoted to Junior Varsity, and even then I came in at the tail end of many races. I just surmised that I was not a runner. I’d grown up watching my uncle, aunt, cousins and even my oldest brother run races, all of them with grace, speed and unspeakable stamina. I stuck to softball—running in short bursts—and that was that.
And then, two weeks or so after my first dream, another one came. This time, I was running down a fairly secluded road sandwiched by gorgeous green fields. The only thing I could hear was the steady click of my sneaker soles on the pavement as I ran and ran. This one gave me more pause. I’ve always admired people who run; it’s an exercise you can do anywhere, anytime, and only requires a good pair of sneakers and the will to do it. But for me, my will was buried deep within the weight I’ve gained over the years and the sheer fright of getting out there and trying. All around me, people were changing their lives, their exercise habits and the way they ate. Two women from a mom’s message board I’m on completely turned their lives around, learning to love exercise, losing an astonishing amount of weight and feeling great about themselves. Dear friends of mine started a running regimen and began signing up for 5Ks together. Mom friends joined Weight Watchers and revamped their whole nutritional intake. I knew I had to do something, and my heart was telling me that something was to take up running again.
So I researched the Couch to 5K program that I’d heard so many things about and decided to give it a try. I’m not sure why this time was different than all the others that I’d vowed to exercise, but it was. I got through the first day, then the next. I’m still only in what I like to think of as my infancy as a runner, not unlike my children when they first discovered they could run: unsteady, a little unsure, but willing to get back up and try it again. A mere three weeks in, I haven’t missed a day, I’m down 11 pounds and I’ve gained a deeper self-respect and a little bit of stamina. I CAN do this. I CAN get up at 5:15am and run/walk two miles (so far). I CAN watch what I eat, because who wants to waste a perfectly good early morning workout on a fatty dessert? I have remarkably more energy during the day, something I’d been told would happen but never believed. Whereas I’d crash right around 2pm every day, I find myself flying through that time of day with ease. I’ve traded in my penchant for snacking all day with low-calorie, high-protein snacks that sustain me longer—and now I only have one of them. I’ve about tripled my water intake and I think—really think—about what I eat at mealtime. I’m still learning, and in terms of “Before” and “After”, I’m still a “Before”. But trust me when I say that if I can do it—anyone can. It starts with a single step, a single commitment to show our children that health is a part of everyday life; not just a phase. I still need lots of support and I’m sure I’ll falter along the way to my goal of running a 5K with a friend in late May. But I’m not thinking of the hardship. What I think about when my alarm buzzes at 5:15 sharp is the echoing click of my sneaker soles in that dream of mine, and that satisfaction I feel knowing that I can be as free as I felt then if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.