I’ve always hated running. My adolescence was filled with uncomfortable memories of being forced to run laps during tennis practice or the yearly mile in PE class. I can still feel the burning sensation in my throat, the lead weight in my chest, the nausea that would follow after pushing myself too hard, even when most of my classmates passed me by. As a teacher, every year my students ask me to run laps with them around the high school track for the school fundraiser. I laugh and explain that I would pass out after running just one. No one wants to see their teacher in an ambulance, right?
I’ve always admired the tenacity of runners, but I’ve never understood it. When the coronavirus shut down gyms, organized sports, and athletic events in March, I noticed that the runners kept running. I marveled as they kept jogging on streetcar tracks, running with their dogs on the levee, trotting with strollers through my neighborhood, and grinning on social media. Even my non-running college roommate back in New York, near the epicenter of the pandemic, had started running.
Weren’t they stressed and worn out? Scared? Maybe there was something to this.
I contacted my college roomie and found out she had just started the Couch to 5K training app. Like most of us, I’d heard of the app but dismissed it as too difficult for lifelong reluctant runners like… us. She insisted the program started off gradually, with short intervals of running interspersed alternating with walking.
On April 15th, minutes after texting my friend, I downloaded the app, grabbed some headphones, old sneakers, an incredibly ineffective sports bra, and set out for day one. I figured it didn’t matter if I made a fool of myself, since my family had just moved to a new neighborhood where nobody knew me. And if it was too hard, I could always stop.
An automated coach greeted me from the app as I strapped my phone to my armband. “Begin with a 5 minute warmup walk.” Easy! I turned on my 90s playlist and started walking a quick pace down my new street, admiring my new neighbors’ landscaped yards.
After 5 minutes, the coach interrupted Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” to tell me to “start running.” So I did. The first week had me running one minute runs six to eight times each session. And it was just as hard as high school gym class– at first. Now, with my 40th birthday approaching, fueled by the frustration of nearly gaining the “Covid-15,” I pushed past the pain and embraced the humiliation. Am I slow? Do I look like a clown? I simply don’t care.
Today is June 15th, exactly two months since I started, and I’m still listening to 90s hits … and still running. I invested in a titanium-strength sports bra, sweat bands for summer, running shoes for my chronic plantar fasciitis, and I am now running 20 minutes nonstop. I run every other day, and when one session is particularly difficult, I repeat it several times until it’s comfortable. If I keep going, I’ll be ready to run a 5K in a month. I don’t consider myself a runner, but I’m now definitely someone who runs (and likes it)!
Surprising yourself, especially during the daily doldrums of corona quarantine, is one of the best feelings there is. Pushing through my running phobia has yielded many surprising benefits. Being outside in the fresh air, by myself, is therapy. And it’s free (not counting the fun accessories)! I make my own goals, my own “running map” and schedule. Some days, the physical act of running feels as cathartic as screaming “when will the schools open?! Ahhh!” Most significantly, having control over my new health regimen lowers my anxiety and gives me hope during this incredibly uncertain time. Those runners around town that I admired before? Maybe they were running because they were scared.
Running has also transformed me into a cheerleader, another activity I’ve always stubbornly avoided. Besides being a cheerleader for myself, I’ve become a cheerleader for others. When I started posting (and grinning) about my running progress on social media, I was stunned by how many friends said they also wanted to start running. So I started a messenger thread called “running women” and invited mama friends I knew who were also starting Couch 2 5K, as well as those who had already begun. For the past 2 months, we’ve shared challenges (running in the heat), triumphs (running with kids in tow), humor (startling strangers with loud wolf breaths) and ongoing support for each other. I can’t wait until this virtual community can come together in real-life again, and run, walk, and laugh our way through whatever contest we decide to enter.
Brittney Dayeh grew up in the Catskills of Upstate New York but considers herself a New Orleanian. She moved to New Orleans in 2006 with her husband, whom she met while teaching English in Japan. She immediately fell in love with the culture, history, and vibe of this city. Brittney teaches third grade social studies at a local public school and lives in Algiers with her husband, who is also a local teacher, and her two children, ages 11 and 7. She has a passion for children’s literature and Louisiana history, dreams about kayaking with manatees, and now loves to run.