Why I Run: A Reflection at the “Action Stage”
Why I Started
I started running 15 weeks ago because I decided to do the opposite of what I felt like doing. I was exhausted after teaching a 1-week course and, when resting didn’t help, I decided to run. I was already exercising, so, when I tried Couch25K, which my son recommended, I was beyond “couch”. But my previous attempts to run had been not serious (in college), had been at too fast a pace to sustain (a few years ago), or purely in my head (New Year’s resolutions). The latter seems to be common; when I told people I was running, many said, “I’ve been thinking of starting too.” It’s like when people view modern art and say, “I can do that.” But most don’t.
Using the language of Transtheoretical Model of Change, these people are at the precontemplation stage. I was too, until I started my “Do the Opposite” plan. The other stages are contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. I am solidly at the action stage.
What I Have Accomplished So Far
Even though I didn’t follow Couch25K, it made me aware of starting slow and building up. I knew the importance of a schedule thanks to my runner husband, Mike, and the exercise class I’ve been going to for years. I committed to running three times a week, and have only had one time I run twice (and a few I’ve run four times).
While my first run was six minutes, I have now completed a 5k. My longest run was 1:04:13, which included going up Nob Hill in San Francisco. I called this “breaking the one-hour barrier,” after reading about (the very different) “Breaking the Two-Hour Marathon Barrier.”
I have run in the rain, which seemed unappealing, but wasn’t bad after the first minute. I have run in heat and humidity – I started in August – and on crisp, fall days. I understand why runners say that fall is their favorite season.
Why I Persisted
It was great to see progress: I was able to go on longer runs and rarely felt tired at the end. It was really fun to run with Mike, who would run at my pace, not his own faster one. I especially liked running when we travelled – the aforementioned one at APHA in San Francisco and another in Montreal. Because I go to an exercise class, I generally don’t exercise when travelling, arguably when I need it most. Running is also a great way to see a city.
Sometimes I found running boring, although less so the longer I do it. I tried listening to music, and tried thinking about something specific (that was how I wrote this – in my head, while on a run).
I tried apps for running and didn’t like any of them. They took more effort to configure than seemed reasonable given that I just wanted to try them, and they asked for my height, weight, and age without telling me how the information would be used (apparently only to calculate how many calories I burned). Their tracking didn’t motivate me because I already had a sense of accomplishment at the end of each run. The reminders I still get from the apps would be unlikely to motivate me if I had started running and then stopped, as the apps believe. (I would like to think further how app design can incorporate Transtheoretical Model of Change in my Mobile Health Design course next summer.)
However I used Twitter and Facebook to informally track my runs, and loved the support and encouragement I received. It was fun to run into friends and colleagues who had not commented online but congratulated me on my running accomplishments. The funniest was when I saw a friend a few days after my 5k and she did a celebratory dance, singing my finish time. I have made new friends too, like Boston Globe writer and runner Elizabeth Comeau.
I am at the action, not the maintenance, stage; I feel committed to continuing but it feels a little tenuous. Mike surprised me once with new running clothes, and I also bought a long-sleeved running shirt in one of my favorite colors, thinking about Janet Wasserstein, who told me that she played better tennis in stylish tennis outfits. With the days getting colder, I need to avoid deterrents, and cold is definitely one of them.
I sometimes catalogue the benefits of running to keep myself from slipping out of the action stage. I like how running is a barometer of how I feel: what’s on my mind, did I get enough sleep? I enjoy being outside and moving, especially given how much I sit the rest of the day. My ”skinny jeans” fit the same, although I assume running has many health benefits for me. I am still working on how my insights can be incorporated into the design of my “Do the Opposite” app for new runners.
It seems like I’ll be at the maintenance stage when I actually look forward to running, not to being done. For right now, I like the sense of accomplishment.
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