I have never been a runner. I have always been one of the people who jokingly say, “I only run when there is a sale.” I grew up dancing ballet from age six onward, progressing through the levels until I was dancing six days a week. Ballet was my life for as long as I can remember, and I even continued dancing through college and then law school. When I finally retired my pointe shoes I still sought out workouts that were dance-based, like Zumba.
Dating, and then eventually marrying, a man who joined the Army introduced me to the world of running, albeit from the sidelines. I would watch my husband wake up before the sun was out to don his running shoes and hit the pavement at each new duty station. Running was such an easily totable form of exercise, no matter where the Army took us. I started to take note.
WHEN IN COLORADO . . .
When we left Germany and arrived in Colorado Springs in 2015, I was faced with reverse culture shock. We fell utterly in love with living and traveling in Europe, and I felt quite at sea returning the U.S. where we had to drive to get around and everything suddenly seemed bigger and lonelier. I was waiting for my job to start up in a few months, and I suddenly found myself with an extraordinary amount of time on my hands. I would watch through the window of our downtown apartment as the many Coloradans would sprint on by, often in pairs or groups. I saw couples laughing and chatting while running side-by-side. Suddenly, I wanted in. I wanted to be one of those couples who run.
When I announced that I wanted to start running, my husband was incredibly supportive. Others questioned my sanity at wanting to learn to run while living at almost 7,000 feet above sea level. For me, the beauty of Colorado Springs with its backdrop of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains seemed like a perfect place to start running. Fort Carson is also blessed with absolutely wonderful, albeit incredibly hilly, running trails on post.
My husband and I set off one warm early fall day and hit the trail. We decided that I should just try to get to a mile, even if that meant walking along with running. That first run was absolutely brutal. My legs ached and my lungs burned from the altitude, but I ran the full mile. As very much a non-runner, being able to run a mile was an incredible milestone.
SETTING A GOAL
My husband and I decided that I needed a goal to work toward to keep myself on track and to motivate me. A race seemed like the perfect motivator. Colorado Springs is a town full of races, but many are very competitive with Olympic athletes participating. I was looking for something a little more low-key. We discovered there was a Turkey Trot on post in mid-November and that became the target I literally ran toward.
Rain, snow, or shine I ran every other day without fail. My husband ran with me on weekends, however his pace was so much faster that he would often lap me several times. To his credit, he always shouted out words of encouragement as he flew on by. On weekdays I ran alone with just the company of my iPod full of 80s dance music, Taylor Swift, and Adele. Even when we took a trip to Virginia, I kept up my running schedule. Every week I added a little bit of distance a quarter of a mile at a time. I found that running was more mental than physical for me. It was ignoring the voice in my head telling me to stop and realizing that I could go farther if I just kept running. Eventually running one mile felt relatively easy and before long I was up to three miles.
When the race day dawned I was up early, jittery with nerves. I knew many of the running trails from my training sessions, but we were unsure of what the actual course would entail and how many hills there might be to tackle. My goal was just to run the whole race without stopping to walk. My husband pinned on my race bib and I pulled on all my cold weather running gear as the morning was frosty and threatened snow. We walked together to the start line and agreed to meet up at the finish line. I popped my ear buds in, cranked up my music, and when the start whistle blew, I took off.
I kept my pace even and focused on myself, ignoring the many people who sprinted by. I breathed in the crisp air and felt a smile creeping to my lips. I couldn’t help but think, here I am, very much a non-runner, running in my very first race. As the course rounded a corner and I was presented with a very steep hill that I had never run before, I took a deep breath and told myself that I could do it. I slowed my pace and trotted up the hill, and when I reached the top I felt positively euphoric and so proud. When I saw the marker for the last quarter mile, my husband was standing there waiting for me and cheering. He had finished his race and jogged back to meet me. My heart swelled with joy as finally, for that last quarter mile, we became one of those couples who run.
Anna-Liisa is an Army wife, mama of two toddlers, lawyer, and editor. She loves reading, art, all things Finnish, and traveling with her husband and children.