In Which I Confess to Something of which I am Irrationally Ashamed

I promised myself I’d actually talk about this publicly at some point, even though I never wanted to. Rather than write a big build-up and then disappoint you, Faithful Readers, I’ll get straight to the point and tell you the thing that I would have hidden forever, if I could have:

I just finished the Couch to 5k running program.

To be fair, I don’t even have a couch…

If you’re not familiar with it, C25K (as the cool kids put it) is a highly structured interval training program that’s designed to turn non-runners into runners. You start out on Day One doing brief intervals of jogging and walking, and by the end you’re running for thirty minutes straight, no matter that you were convinced it was something as beyond your power as cracking the moon in half with your thoughts.

I started at the end of August, and just finished this past Friday, and believe me, no one is more surprised than I am. I did it because, well, my doctor reminded me that I’m staring down the barrel of 40, and it would be a good idea to start getting my shit in order. That, and the Singularity isn’t due for another thirty years or so, so I need to be alive enough in meatspace to be able to transfer my consciousness into an imperishable android body and live forever.

The gym was out of the question. I don’t need to pay ¥10,000 a month to hate myself when I can do it on my own at home for free. I’ve done the gym before, and there’s nothing more disheartening, in my mind, than going to the gym. It’s all the worst metaphors for life bundled into one room – the treadmill, where you work really hard and don’t get anywhere; the weights, where you’re constantly reminded of your own weaknesses; the other people, who are almost certainly judging you every chance they get… And the music is universally awful.

So I found C25K, and the related community on Reddit, and decided that it would be worth the shot. There was no money that needed to be spent, other than on a pair of shoes, and if it didn’t work, well, no one needed to know. [1] My neighborhood was a perfect place to do it, as it was flat and there were a lot of streets to choose from. The only real downside was that in order to fit it into my day, I would have to go out running in the morning.

4:30 in the morning, to be exact.

This is the moderate level of suckitude, just for your reference…

At first, it sucked. Then it sucked slightly less. And then a whole lot more. And then the suckitude kind of evened out to a reliable level of nonspecific unpleasantness, which is where it stands today. Don’t get me wrong – it worked. I went from wishing that I could die after only three minutes to wishing I could die after thirty. Those are thirty minutes more than I would have been able to run during any other time in my life, so I count that as an achievement.

I lost weight, too. Between this and calorie-counting towards a net-2000 kcal diet, I’ve dropped from 100 kg to 92 kg. [2] Most of my pants don’t fit right anymore, and a few people have already remarked that I look like I’ve lost weight (although when I look in the mirror, I don’t see it. Should have taken pictures, I suppose.)

That being said, though, I still hate running. If someone invented a pill that would give me all the positive benefits of a daily run, I would take it every day and never move at anything faster than a slow mosey for the rest of my life.

Up until I started this program, part of my self-identity was explicitly not being someone who does sports or physical activity. I’d had such a crappy record with sports in my youth that I saw it as the antithesis of what I was as a person. Not a healthy way to look at it, but there it is.

And, as long as we’re being honest with each other, I hoped for something like this.

Before I started C25K,though, I allowed myself the hope that this would change. I hoped that it would become something I loved to do. I imagined myself running to the store or the train station just because I could. I thought I would feel the way I do in dreams – like I’m not so much running as I am gliding, enthralled by the sense of pure motion. I thought I would discover something new in myself.

That never happened.

I know a lot of people talk about “endorphins” or “runner’s high” and feelings of great energy and even euphoria while running, and while I cannot prove that such things at part of a complex conspiracy of lies designed to ensnare new people into the hobby of running so as to share the misery as much as possible, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. [3] After ten weeks, I still don’t enjoy it. I don’t know if I ever will.

I wish I did, I really do. It would give me a visceral reason for doing this, rather than an intellectual one. I know that I’ve run and walked 137 km over the last ten weeks. I know that I went from thinking that three minutes was a hellish eternity to thinking it was just another half-lap around the block. I know that I have worked hard and seen results.

But I don’t feel it. Once I’ve stopped sweating and gone to work, a running day feels just like a non-running day. I don’t feel like I have any more energy or endurance than I did ten weeks ago. I don’t feel like anything is different at all. Maybe it’s an improvement so gradual that I haven’t noticed, but…

Well, I’d kind of hoped I would notice.

In any case, I’m going to keep it up, mainly because its a thing that needs to be done. I have to set goals that matter, though. I have no intention of entering any races, because I just don’t care enough, and I don’t have the time or energy in my day to try for 10k or longer. I am using the Walk to Rivendell idea – only 600 km to go – and I still have about 11 kg to shed before I’m down to a size I’d like to be. But if I ever get to a point where I’m running just for the sake of running, I guarantee you – that’ll be the day I stop running.

This, of course, ties into the reasons I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing (except for The Boyfriend and a bunch of strangers on Reddit).

Thank you… for your encouragement…

Partly because I was certain from the beginning that I would fail. I figured if no one knew, then there would be less shame in failing. And for some reason, encouragement makes it worse – if people are cheering me on, it makes it all the more shameful when I finally let them down. The last thing I wanted was messages of support from people who mattered, because that would make my inevitable failure all the more terrible.

But more importantly, announcing that I was doing this felt like – feels like – a fundamental betrayal of the person I’ve always presented myself (and believed myself) to be. Telling everyone that I had started running was like announcing that I was getting married to a woman. Like showing you a picture of the ballot where I had voted for Mitt Romney. Starting a Sex and the City fan blog, you see what I mean. Being a runner wasn’t something I ever thought I would be, and it was something I never wanted to be because it wasn’t who I was.

And yet.

So why reveal this Terrible Secret now? Well, it seemed like time. After all, I did finish the program, which is momentous in and of itself. And I knew there would come a point where not fessing up to it would be tantamount to lying to everyone I know, without any real good reason for it. It is an irrational shame, after all. If I’m going to lie and hide something from my friends and family, it should be something I’m rightfully ashamed of, like that little incident with those Boy Scouts, the herpetological museum, and a fifty gallon drum of tapioca pudding.

I may have said too much.

[1] Well, The Boyfriend knew. It’s kind of hard to hide a nine-week running program from the person you live with, although I probably would have if I could have.
[2] No, I’m not doing the conversions for you. That’s what Google is for.
[3] Mind you, I can’t prove that it isn’t, either. Your move, runners.