How I learned to love to run

I was the kid who was constantly pouting and complaining about how much I despised gym class. The kid who was pegged in the back of the head during dodge ball, struck out during t-ball (seriously), dribbled a basketball two or three times before it pathetically rolled away from me and was always in the last handful of kids picked when choosing teams.

To think that in a few years I would become an avid runner seemed absolutely unrealistic at that time.

Different strokes

I found myself drawn towards music and art, to being able to create things, to reading and writing. I tried to force myself to enjoy sports — moreso for the social aspect and inclusion Running helped improve Tera Swason’s health, both physically and mentally.

Photo by Tera Swanson with my friends who were on school teams. However, my lack of skill always shone through and by the end of middle school I had completely given up.

Sports were clearly not my strong point. As the only child in a large family who didn’t have this interest and in a small rural Alberta town where the emphasis and importance of sports was monumental, this left a major impact on me. I pretended that it didn’t bother me and laughed along when my friends would joke about how uncoordinated and awkward I was. It only cemented my belief that I would never be athletic and never be good at anything related to physical skill.

Until I discovered running.

A shocking discovery

My addiction started after I had taken a year off from university to live in what I now consider my home away from home — Banff. As many people new to the area discover, a year of drinking and partying half the week mixed with late night post-bar-pizza will start to take its toll on your mental and physical health. After a search for an online body mass index calculator, what I discovered shocked me. A healthy BMI was between 18.5 and 24.9 — I was sitting at a 26.5. I was 4.5 kilograms overweight. Thinking that couldn’t be right, I brought it up at my next doctor’s appointment.

“You’re not far off a normal weight range and you’re still pretty healthy, all things considered, but it wouldn’t hurt to lose a bit,” my doctor gently suggested. “Just start paying more attention to what you’re eating and try to exercise a few times a week.”

“There is nothing quite like lacing up your runners just as the sun is coming up over the mountain peaks, having the clean morning air seep through your lungs and wake up your veins”

– Tera Swanson
I happened to work as a lifeguard at a recreation centre, which helped me meet my goal of hitting the gym 5 times a week, but still I was frustrated with my crawling progress. The ellipticals and bikes got me started, but I felt I could push myself harder and the whole gym environment was becoming bland and irritating to me. The people, the smells, the grunts, the blatant ogles — I needed to be somewhere I could breathe.

A new chapter

A co-worker and friend opened the doors to a completely new world for me. He suggested running as an answer to my need for a more vigorous work-out and offered to go for a run with me after I explained my inability to run longer than 2 or 3 minutes — a common setback that many new runners experience.

“You’re probably just pushing yourself too hard. Slow down and breathe, pace yourself and you’ll last a lot longer,” he explained.

We coordinated our lunch breaks, tied up our laces and headed upstairs to the indoor running track. Just as he said would happen, we breezed through the first 5 minutes, staying at a pace where we could keep a conversation going. I amazed myself as we got through our first kilometer, then our second and finished with a fourth. It seems such a trivial feat to me now, when I was running 4 times as far within the year. But I was truly shocked that my body was capable of running that distance. I was on that track every other day, pushing up my distance and speed little by little, and eventually gained enough confidence in my ability to start running outside.

The greatest feeling

There is nothing quite like lacing up your runners just as the sun is coming up over the mountain peaks and having the clean morning air seep through your lungs and wake up your veins. Soaking in the surroundings of trees and paths, river and lakes, and thinking about nothing but putting one foot in front of the other as you experience that amazing runner’s high.

The next challenge I faced was how to maintain my motivation after I had gotten over the first obstacle of learning how to run. As a goal for my then-boyfriend and myself to start leading a healthier lifestyle, I convinced him to sign up with me for our very first 6 km race. While the boyfriend didn’t last, my passion for running did.

I finished the race in 42 minutes and have improved drastically since then. Three years later and 13 kilograms lighter, I’ve realized that running was the start to a long, wonderful process of putting myself first. It was such a pivotal transition in my life. It has become a part of my identity, and it has shaped the person I’ve become since then in endless ways. I would probably be a different person today if I hadn’t quite literally stumbled across this passion.

A change in body and mind

I found such an important personal gratification in running — the sense of accomplishment from completing my first double-digit run, the amount of energy and enthusiasm I had, and most importantly the exponential increase in my level of self-confidence. The physical changes I noticed after a few short months left me feeling healthier, but the most noticeable change was how much happier I was. My ability to handle stress, my relationships with people and my view of myself all had a dramatic improvement. But the biggest appeal I found in running was knowing you can always improve and push yourself that little bit further. You’re constantly striving towards the best you can be.

tswanson@cjournal.ca