Have you ever accidentally discovered that you enjoy something? I did. I got married last year, moved to a different continent and found out that I love running. It gets me high.
Maps Are Utter Nonsense
I packed up my personal belongings and left Scotland’s perpetual winter for Central Florida’s sunshine and never-ending summer and honestly, I’m at the happiest point I’ve ever been at any time of my life. But I’ve had to adapt to some changes. Things are different here and it goes beyond the weather.
I have no sense of direction. Seriously, I could get lost in a paper take-out bag! Whatever that built in ability is that gives you a sense of orientation and direction is something I didn’t get. I wasn’t born with it and despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to learn it. Maps only make sense if I’m going North. Otherwise I’m going sideways or upside down and I don’t travel that way. My challenge was less about getting out of the house. The problem was finding my way home!
I didn’t drive in the UK. With a great public transport network and regular train services, I never needed to use a car. It was cheaper and easier to walk everywhere and get a train when I needed to go farther than my legs would take me. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that here. I needed to find a way to get out of the house and still be able to find my way back home.
Bring Me Solutions, Not Problems
That’s something a former boss used to often say, and for some reason it stuck. Actually, I was a bit stuck, too. We live in a lovely family neighborhood, but going places without a car is either not safe or completely impractical.
With my husband at work and daughter at school all day, I was pretty housebound. That was an obvious problem. The positives I have going for me are that I love the sun (yes, even the sweltering heat in July), I love being outdoors and I’ve always enjoyed walking. Walking is also one way that I am able to become familiar with my environment, seeing as maps are of little use to me.
One hot morning in late June, I slipped my feet into a pair of shoes, took my phone (you know, just in case I got lost and had to call) and ventured out into my new strange world, where I had to get used to traffic approaching from the other side, looking the wrong way first.
I came back about an hour later feeling pretty pleased with myself and knew that I’d enjoy making a habit of getting out like this.
I downloaded the free version of the Runkeeper app onto my phone. I wasn't planning to start running, but it would be fun to see how far I walked each day. And going out for a long walk became my daily routine. Everyone would get up and leave the house, and I’d do the same.
By August I was comfortably walking about five miles a day, with a few days where I almost doubled that distance. Some days I’d pick up the pace and start running for part of the way, wondering how anyone manages to run more than a mile without stopping. My legs felt fine, but my lungs would burn.
Someone told me some years back that if you can run three miles, you can learn to run any distance. I still don’t know if that’s true, but it was starting to play on the back of my mind. Maybe I’d actually like to go a bit faster.
How I Decided to Start Running
It was a Sunday morning in early September, I looked out the window and felt cheated when I saw the clouds threatening rain.
No walk today? I really didn’t want to give it up. It had become my thing; my thinking space, my freedom, and something completely selfish and I wanted to walk. I didn’t. I was irritated by the weather and the faint rumble of thunder in the distance.
It felt like a personal attack of the weather gods and I wasn’t happy. Imagine nature dictating what you get to do (or not) with your day! I was too annoyed to walk. I ran.
The storm blew by and the rain held itself at a soft drizzle. It felt refreshing. It felt addictive. I wanted to fly. A couple of hours and nine miles later I returned home, drenched, but on such I high. I ran nine miles. In my denim shorts and a pair of rubber Skechers. Did I just start running? I can run!
Of course, I had to break the news to my husband. I was proud of my accomplishment, but it felt almost like a confession because I know how much he worried about me slipping, or hurting myself in my inappropriate footwear. I’d already fallen like a boss more than once running over rain-soaked fallen tree blossoms.
You know that brief moment between standing upright and suddenly seeing a pair of feet at eye level and realizing they are yours? Yeah, that one. I had refused his repeated offers to take me to get some decent shoes for walking and running, worrying that I might not be cut out for this and buying the shoes would be committing to something I wasn’t sure I could do. But he shared my excitement as his own and this time, when he insisted on getting me some shoes, I didn’t protest.
The Upside of Clueless Bliss
I knew precious little about running. I still don’t know as much as I could, but I’ve learned a lot. Mostly through a bit of ignorance and some silly mistakes I’ve made along the way. I love running just for the love of it. There are no rules. Common sense? Absolutely essential. Rules? For me, right now, almost none.
I haven’t joined a training plan or a running group. It’s not to say I won’t. There are many benefits to running with others and particularly to having some guidance from someone who understands the science behind running. For now, I just love the freedom I have where everything I do is personal.
I’m not measuring myself against anyone or anything, but my own previous efforts. Do I track my runs? Yes. Do I look at my statistics on the app after most of my runs? Absolutely. But there is a beautiful freedom that comes from not really knowing how I measure against others, yet being able to track my own progress.
My favorite runs are long, steady ones. It feels exhilarating when I hit what I call my Cruise Mode. I can’t seem to conjure it up on demand, but occasionally I seem to settle into that perfect pace and it’s usually around the six mile mark that I know that this is a day where I could just keep going. Ever hear about a runner's high? This is it.
There’s probably some sort of scientific key to figuring out how to get this to happen more often, and I am sure I’ll be searching in that direction in the near future.
Right now, I’m fairly steady with my mileage. I run five days a week, or sometimes six, clocking around 10-11 miles a day. I only do a “long run” every other week because I feel I have the opportunity to get out pretty much every day and I don’t feel the need to push the distance more often than that at this time. My recent long runs vary between 13.5 and 15.5 miles. I’m definitely built for endurance rather than speed. But more importantly, the longer runs are the ones I love.
I change my route from time to time and add different turns and detours into it, just to keep it interesting. I love being outside.
Smelling the sunshine. Seeing palm trees against a blue sky
There are familiar faces I’ve met on the trails and in various neighborhoods, who smile and greet me cheerfully whenever they see me.
Being outside makes me happy. I can get my runner's high all year round. I love Florida. Even with the heat and humidity, it’s a wonderful place to run and I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.
Stupid Made Me Smarter
Of course ignorance is not all bliss. It can be dangerous. Or, it can just be plain embarrassing or uncomfortable. Much of what I have learned has been through silly errors because I didn’t know any better, which led me to do a bit of research and educate myself.
Here’s an example. I found early on that I can’t eat much before I go running. I cope better with a good meal the night before and a more substantial breakfast after I get back from a run.
Having built up from walking to running in the summer, I never stopped to drink while out. I had no idea that you have to teach your body to take in fluids on a run.
Then, one day I was so thirsty I stepped aside at one of the drinking fountains on my favorite running trail and took in a few healthy gulps before continuing on my way. I had about a mile and a half to go and spent almost all of it gagging and gasping, trying not to throw up.
I counted the line of fire hydrants on the track by way of a distraction. “One fire hydrant ….” Gag, gasp, splutter, gag … “Two fire hydrants …”
Not my finest moment and honestly, I still struggle with taking in fluids when running, so if anyone has some recommendations, please leave me a comment. It’s something I need to learn and I’ve made no progress at all since that incident.
I didn’t run in the UK so I don’t have a means or a need to compare anything directly. Some of the differences are pretty obvious.
It’s hotter here. I don’t expect ice on the sidewalks. Cars go anti-clockwise around traffic circles. My sweaty little Scottish head took a while to process the visuals on this. It just looked so wrong.
There are no hills. OK, that’s a lie. It’s what I believed at first. Then I started running and soon stopped mocking the “hills” my husband pointed out. They really are hills. They are also mysteriously steeper after eight miles than they are at mile three.
I remember taking a new route one day and seeing a Wildlife Crossing sign. I glanced to my right and saw a tiny lake, filled with reeds and murky water. I looked over the road on the other side and saw an area thick with shrubs, trees and long grass. I hesitated, realizing that I’m probably not expecting Scottish sheep to be showing up here, but the sign was silent as to what might be crawling out of there. I decided to turn around and head back in the opposite direction. Just in case.
Running Can be Dangerous
I had to learn to adapt to looking out for different things and my former common sense had adjust slightly for a different environment.
Part of running out on public trails and sidewalks is the necessity to constantly be aware of your surroundings. I’ve had my share of close calls with drivers not expecting to see pedestrians at a crosswalk.
I’ve jumped out of the way of speeding cyclists and lawn services, oblivious to my presence. Uneven paving slabs occasionally rise up to meet tired legs, lashing out at the sole of a weary foot if you don’t lift your legs high enough.
I learned to keep my eyes open for snakes, instead of worrying about slipping on ice. I got used to looking out for squirrels – those damn things dart right across your path and under your feet. I no longer have to think about someone’s sheep or cows getting out into the road in front of me, but I do know that raccoons and those cheeky Sand Hill Cranes like to play nuisance games and you want to leave the wildlife alone as much as you possibly can. It's amazing how you have to reset the way you think in certain situations when you start running outdoors.
I learned that breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth makes a whole lot of sense here, after I inhaled some kind of bug that stung me on the inside of my cheek and promptly flew out again. I don’t know if that advice has any health merits during exercise, but it certainly works from a pest control perspective and that’s enough for me to accept it.
Oh, and this comes as no surprise to most women (and perhaps some of the guys, too). You also learn to reward the obnoxious comments and honking drivers by denying them the attention they seem to desperately need.
What About Races?
You might be wondering if I’m training for a half marathon. I get that question a lot from friendly neighbors. I’m not. At least, not right now.
The truth is I’m intimidated by the large crowds I’ve seen in photos of races. I would love to run a half marathon. I’d love to run one every month if I could. First, I need to overcome the hurdle that stands in the way between me and a race
I took that big, first step over the weekend and signed up for my very first race.
I picked the 15k EA Riverside Dash in Seminole County. There is a 5k race as well and a free Kids Dash, too. What attracted me to this race is that they promise pancakes and beer afterwards. I don’t care for beer, but I’ll take the pancakes!
What I really like about this one is that it’s a relatively small race and I don’t feel so daunted by the prospect of huge crowds. It’s a big step for me. I know that if I don’t take it, I’ll never sign up for a race.
Hey, I may not like it. And that would be totally fine. If I choose not to run at events, I want it to be because I choose not to, and not because I’m afraid of trying. Honestly, I'm more likely to want to start running more races and different distances once I get a taste of my first race environment. But the first step always seems to feel like the biggest one.
I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know any other runners here and when signing up, for some reason you have to have a team. It doesn’t matter if you join one that’s been created by someone else or whether you make up one for yourself, but they want a team name associated with your own name, for whatever good reason.
So I created a team for Orlando Local. Right now, I’m the only member. I’m not worried. There are several one-member teams, but if you are from the Orlando area and plan to sign up for the race and you don’t have a team, please feel free to add your name to Orlando Local.
Leave me a message in the comments section so that I can look out for you and say hello. Since all of you have an accent and I don’t, I sound different, but I speak perfect English and I promise you’ll be able to understand me.
I think what surprised me more than anything over the last eight months is that running is such a personal experience. It’s not a contest. But it can be.
There’s no pressure, but you can add some if it motivates you. Nobody else is better than you. Others may be faster; they may run farther. But you got out of bed just like they did, laced up your sneakers and went and did it.
Your accomplishment belongs to you. You earned it and you get to enjoy it and if you have friends or family who want to share it, that’s pretty cool, too.
In the meantime, I just keep running because I love it. It makes me happy and I enjoy it. As long as that remains my main reason for running, I’m always going to be a winner. And if you love running, so are you.
Lee’s Favorite Running Gear
I’m not a flashy person. I like to look and feel good, but I want things to be functional. The up side is that none of the things I’ve wanted or needed have broken the bank. If you’re interested, here’s a list of my favorite running related items.
Shoes: I did quite a bit of research before selecting a running shoe and eventually settled on Asics for a number of reasons.
First, reviews for Asics shoes seem to be consistently good. This brand also seems to be designed with functionality in mind. I don't see Asics being promoted as a trend or fashion statement. They make shoes for people to wear when active. Perhaps this is why the reviews are generally very good.
Second, it is great that this is an affordable brand and I believe I have a good quality product that suits my needs. I got over 700 miles out of my first pair before they started showing slight signs of wear on the outer edges of the soles and replaced them with an identical pair in a different color.
They offer good support for my feet and the cushioning inside does really well at absorbing the shock of pounding the asphalt without hurting my feet. It's also the first time I've been able to wear a new pair of shoes out, put them through their paces and not have any chafing or discomfort at all. I found my perfect shoes and twice in a row, I've had no need to break them in first.
These are my winners.
Shorts: I got my running shorts from Target!
These are the same type of shorts I got from Target and for a similar price. They are comfortable and although I always swore I'd never run outside in body-hugging shorts, I actually prefer this style because they don't flap against my legs or ride up while I'm running.
I prefer too wear a longer tank top with them though, which is why I love using my husband's larger ones, but that is a personal preference. I like the fact that the fabric breathes and they don't feel heavy, even when it's really hot outside and I've been sweating profusely. Another up side is that they dry quickly once washed.
Tops: I took my husband’s Under Armour shirts and love how the material allows air to flow through.
I wear Crop Tops from Target under the Under Armour tank tops.
Running Belt: I don’t like things on my arm when I’m running. It also makes weird tan lines in the Florida sun. This is the one I’m using. They have larger ones if you have one of the newer big phones, but this fits my iPhone 5S, a bunch of keys, spare earbuds and has space for some other small items.
Sun Screen Lotion: Running outdoors in Florida makes sunscreen a must. This has been my favorite brand for years. I've never been sunburned while using it. I love the way it soaks in and is absorbed really quickly and it smells amazing! It doesn't have that coconut scent that is commonly associated with sun protection.
I also used the spray gel, but for running. I find the cream is easier as it is absorbed quicker by the skin. The SPF 15 works fine for me for the duration and times of my runs, but higher protection is available up to a factor 50 and there is a sport version as well (which I have not tried, so I can't comment on it). This one is water resistant and seems to withstand my sweaty arms and legs and do the trick between leaving home and getting back and into the shower.
For me it is a must-have.
My protein shake for after the run. I love the . I prefer vanilla because it’s so versatile. I’ve tried it mixed with chilled brewed coffee and it tasted fine, but my favorite right now is mixing it a scoop with half a cup of water, half a cup of natural yogurt, half a cup of pure orange juice and filling up the shaker with crushed ice. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this on the last few miles home.
Favorite running app: Runkeeper. I’m using the free version as it’s sufficient for my needs right now, but I did redeem some points from a Runkeeper challenge I completed last year and was able to enjoy the Runkeeper Go (paid version) for three months.