Step by step

I have always wanted to be a runner. I exercise, but mainly as a means to an end, such as to fit into my jeans. Walking the treadmill at the gym, I'd watch enviously as a runner zipped past the window, glowing with fitness in the fresh air. Occasionally, I'd attempt a run around my neighborhood, but after a few minutes, I'd stop, gasp for breath and realize I was nothing like those glowing folks. I'd think, "I'm not a runner," and I would quit.

About eight weeks ago, I saw an ad for the Ashland Rotary Run, a polio awareness fundraiser. I quickly registered for the 5K, knowing I would be forced to train for it. And since I can't do anything without a book, my training started at the library.

I checked out "The Complete Book of Running for Women" by Claire Kowalchik. I knew it was for me when I read the author's admission in the introduction that she did not experience a "runner's high" in her first year of running. It offers an easy run/walk plan for beginners, as well as good advice about shoes, sports bras and cross training.

By inter-library request, you can also obtain the classic "The Complete Book of Running" by the legendary Jim Fixx. This 1977 best-seller made Fixx famous, launched the fitness craze of the late '70s and is still considered by many to be the best book on running ever written. Incidentally, Fixx was a Mensa genius who also wrote several books of brain teasers, including "Games For The Super Intelligent."

The most interesting book I uncovered was "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall, an incredibly interesting and inspiring exploration of the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world.

"They remember what it's like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves," McDougall says of the Tarahumara. "For them, running isn't work. It isn't a punishment for eating. It's fine art, like it was for our ancestors."

If only I could be a runner by reading about running. I read Kowalchik's book twice and, when that didn't make me a runner, I put on the nearly new running shoes I'd bought 6 years ago and hit the pavement. I managed to run up my street for a few minutes before I felt like my heart was going to stop. I walked home and just as I was about to tell my husband for the 50th time that I was not a runner, he handed me a flyer for a YMCA class designed to help people train to run a 5K or 10K. I signed up.

The instructor, Freeborn Mondello, was very helpful, but the biggest benefit was that I made a friend who would run with me, a former runner just getting back into the game. During classes, Rob Barco would run beside me chatting happily, offering good advice on posture and breathing, but mostly just be supportive.

Rob had lived in Japan and kept me going with a favorite Japanese saying that roughly translates as "step-by-step, I grow stronger." Those few words became my mantra, and I was repeating them as I completed the Ashland Rotary Run on Saturday, my first-ever 5K. I didn't run fast, and probably wasn't glowing, but I felt good. Best of all, I finally figured out the secret to running: You don't have to be super-fit or athletic to be a runner. All you have to do is run.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.

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