I changed my socks this evening before going for a jog. Hours after I got home, while Skyping with a friend, I noticed that sentence needs to be amended: I changed my sock before going for a jog.
Never mind my sartorial ineptitude for now, though. It feels far stranger for me to say “I went for a jog” than “My feet don’t match.” (After all, that’s happened before.)
I am so not a jock. I mean, I’m not a couch potato either. I play volleyball semi-regularly. I would have said “regularly” before my Olympic job ate my life and, now, before my wonky foot ligament protests playing on sand. I’m a dabbler in other things. Living in Vancouver means I feel obligated to hike, and unemployment has given me the time to make a goal out of exploring more of this beautiful area I live in. I’ll try almost anything if someone asks me to, which explains forays into windsurfing, kayaking, white water rafting.
But my natural habitat is at home, listening to music while typing away at my computer, or watching television or movies, or reading. Activities that, I'll admit, often do occur on the couch.
And I’ve never understood the appeal of running, unless it was for a bus or from a bee. If I’m doing something for fun, it has to be fun. If I’m doing something for exercise, it has to be … fun. Running is not fun. Therefore I’m not a runner.
So I find it hard to explain why I started on this Couch to 5k training program. After the job ate my life, I wanted to spend my glorious unemployment having fun and taking care of myself. Which sounds corny, but while I have no excuses – no time crunch, no justifiable exhaustion – I wanted to make deliberately healthier choices. I wanted to figure out what pieces of my former life to pick up and what to add. I wanted new challenges.
The nebulous goal of “running” had no appeal, but the specific goal of “downloading an iPhone app that leads you from couch potato to running 5k” seemed like an appealingly achievable one that also spoke to my nerdy, iPhone-loving, deadline-driven self.
Obviously you could do the same program without an app, but it's something akin to fun to do with it. The app is leading me through the nine weeks, telling me when to walk, when to run, gradually increasing the ratio of running to walking, while I do nothing more than focus on my music and whatever thoughts pass randomly through my head until that gentle voice says “cool down now.”
The running itself is head-clearing or thought-harnessing, depending on my mood. It’s a rush to feel myself getting better at something, gaining stamina, slowly but steadily. Not that I’m good at it, but what does it matter? With this kind of solitary jogging, just doing it is good. I’m not competing against anyone but my former self. If the squirrels outrun me, so what?
I’m halfway through the nine-week program now. At the beginning of every week I’ve thought I was at my limit. At the end of every week I’ve felt like I could do more. It's something of a miracle that I'm still motivated to do it at all, and yet I am. I've even been eager to get back to it when visitors and travelling have made me take a few days off.
Last week was the first time the balance was tipped towards more jogging than walking. This week is the first where you don’t get a whole week of one routine; each of the three days increases the amount of jogging. I never should have looked ahead, but the session after next has me running a solid 20 minutes. Not yet 5k, but far longer than I’ve run since elementary school gym class, when we were put through the torture that was the Canada Fitness Program. Oddly, the endurance run was the event I was best at, and the one I hated most. Now I'm terrible at even the short distances I'm doing, but I'm almost enjoying it.
I fear that 20 minute run, and yet I’m intrigued by how my body’s been tricked into working up to it, and how my brain feels confident about that future run because of how past runs have gone. I haven't turned jock; I've turned nerd about the process.
I don’t know if I’ll keep running after I’ve completed the program. I think I’ll need another gimmick to keep motivated. I could work on increasing speed. I could try the 10k app. I could move on to another challenge. But I’ll always have the knowledge that “I’m not a runner” is an arbitrary identity I chose for myself.
Who knows what else I’m capable of? Maybe even dressing myself, someday. I bet there's an app for that.