The date was February 10, 2017. It was still winter outside, which in Ottawa meant the snowbanks were still two meters tall, and the windchill was a parole officer who kept everybody inside their homes.
Because of the treacherous scenery that awaited outside my front door, I recall avoiding going to the gym in favour of a run on my basement treadmill. I wasn’t particularly interested in running, but I did like to mix in the occasional cardio session here and there.
I had just recently purchased my Nike+ Apple Watch and was also interested in testing it out. Because I work at Apple, I wanted to be able to speak to the product better with my customers, and draw from my own experiences. I also just wanted to know what the hype was about.
The treadmill in my basement is in one of the back corners of my house, in my dad’s office space. It’s practically buried by old paperwork, my grandparents’ hospital documents, holiday shopping lists, etc. It’s not a very visually stimulating setting for a run (or much else, for that matter). To add disfunction to the disarray, there’s even an old TV that doesn’t turn on anymore directly in front of your face when you run on the treadmill, so all you see is a reflection of your own face bobbing up and down as you run.
Despite all of these factors, I still committed myself to my decision to run. I wanted to see how far I could go, and using my watch as motivation, I went farther than I probably should have. My numbers from that run were:
- Distance: 3.35km
- Duration: 23:12
- Pace: 6’55/km
- Avg HR: 152bpm
Looking back, I am more horrified by the uneven numbers than the numbers themselves! Today, I would stop at 3km or even 3.5km. But 3.35? The OCD in me is buzzing. All kidding aside, I did learn a lot that day. I also learned that I still had a lot to learn about running.
I must have felt good after that day, because a few days later, just as a coke addict returns to sort another line, I went back to my basement treadmill for more. That time I ran/walked 4.66km (again, the number gives me acid reflux just typing it), but almost died of cardiac arrest, and so I stopped 340m short of 5km. Would I have actually died? Probably not. But I’d been running for 2 days and didn’t have the mental stamina to break through.
I actually wouldn’t accomplish a 5km run until March 26, a good 6 weeks after I began running. I can still remember that day. That was a monumental accomplishment for me. I walked into work like I was Tim Cook that day.
After experimenting with the 5k for a month or so – my training log shows I was infatuated with the distance, as 8 of my next 11 runs were exactly 5km long – I pushed for 7km. That felt good. Within a month of hitting the 5km plateau, I had set my sights on 10km.
By this point it was now April. The snow was retreating but the roads were still slippery and slushy. I graduated from the treadmill in my basement to the one at Goodlife and locked in to get it done. I was determined I would get there. If I had to stop along the way, so be it. But I would not quit. Lo and behold, in 51:55 (but probably closer to an hour considering the breaks) I covered the distance.
After stepping off the treadmill, I looked at myself in the change room mirror. I couldn’t believe that I’d done that. I remember smiling through the sweat droplets so deliriously, which I don’t do often and hadn’t done in a long time. Little did I know, as running became a bigger and bigger part of my life and self image, these smiles were about to become more and more frequent.
Around the start of June, when I was comfortable and able to run upwards of half an hour with relative ease, I decided to document my runs on my Instagram. The feedback was both immediate and addictive. Runners from all around the world were encouraging me on. I started to see myself as a runner and call myself one with confidence. With the decision to go public, I felt like I had people counting on me to follow through on my goals. This scared me. But it also inspired me to set even bigger, scarier goals, including my biggest goal of all: qualifying for and completing the Boston Marathon.
I can recollect the first time I told someone I was trying to get to the Boston Marathon. It was my good friend Sachin from work. He used to run a lot, and had shown me his old race results online. I was so impressed. I wanted to do it, too! The idea had been marinating for a few weeks at that point, and it was (still is) a pipeline goal for a few thousand kilometers down the road, but I just came out and said it: “I’m training to get to the Boston Marathon.”
His reaction was one of both surprise and belief. We both knew I had a lot of work to do. But I felt so assured of myself, so confident in the progress I’d made. And saying it out loud made it real. It raised the stakes. From that day on, while I still run for the feeling and enjoyment, I began to consider myself a runner. My runs had purpose. The food I ate mattered. The recovery runs, foam rolling, Epsom salt baths, strength training. It all mattered.
On May 31, just less than 4 months after that fateful February morning, with six runs of 10km under my belt, I set my eyes on the next markee distance: the half marathon. This was an important achievement if I was to continue working toward my goal of the Boston Marathon. I returned to my habitual treadmill at Goodlife and locked in, just as I’d done when I decided to go for 10km. I did it in 1:45:43.
Something about a treadmill, while I absolutely prefer outdoor running, is comforting to me. The pace is controlled for me. Water and a towel are readily available. I can just put my legs on auto-pilot and mentally check out. Outlasting other runners next to me is satisfying. The most gratifying thing for me, however, is seeing the sweat that I’ve poured onto the surface beneath me when I’m finished. It sounds gross, and it is. But each drop that fell on that treadmill was an indication of my effort to improve myself.
Yesterday the Nike+ Run Club app indicated I’d run 1000km. Today is September 10 – exactly seven months after that inaugural run. In the short time I’ve been running, I’ve now completed two 10km races, with a top 10 finish in both (they weren’t elite races by any stretch of the imagination, but both had upwards of 250 participants). I’ve never PR’d in a race, only in training, which is something I am trying to change.
I am now one week out from another new experience: a half marathon race. The Canada Army Run will be my first “big race.” But I am not intimidated by the crowds and the noise. I am only running against myself. My mindset has evolved from just surviving, to seeing how fast I can run it. I know I can cover the distance – I’ve done it in training 10 times already. The time I am touting as my A-goal is 1:30:00. My PR in the half marathon right now is 1:33:45. I feel that with the right preparation, nutrition, strategy and race day adrenaline that I can do it. Typing this gives me goosebumps and reminds me how much I’ve changed since February.
It’s amazing how things can change in seven months.