My Running Journey

Adapted from GQ’s How Running a Little Bit Every Day for Two Months Changed My Life by Emily Abbate.

I started running in February ’17 after a trip to London for Presidents’ Day weekend, 18–20 February.

I was well over 200 lbs (90 kg), the battle to manage my weight since moving to America had been years in the making. My niece and I were playing with a balloon in the living room when it hit me: I need to slim down. I got back from my trip and signed for a gym membership two days later.

I didn’t like lifting, so I decided to run. I made a very specific plan about when and where I would run:

The timing: after work.

I used to have an exhausting, long commute (train -> bus -> walking) to the office, so that meant after 8 PM, usually around 9 PM. I would go back to my apartment to drop off my laptop, grab my workout bag and an umbrella if it was raining, and get moving. There was no laying down on my bed “just for a few minutes” to relax, watching Netflix, or doing anything else that would slow me down. I was walking in and walking right back out the door.

The route: 15–20 minutes of walking to the Oak Square YMCA gym and jumping on the treadmill for 30–45 minutes (or until closure time if I got there late).

I did not let the cold, snowy New England winter stand in my way. My first run/walk was painful. Five minutes into my fat burner workout, my lungs were on fire. I had to turn the speed down and walk. Watching my treadmill neighbors go fast without stopping was intimidating but also motivating. The thought of quitting and looking for the nearest exit crossed my mind, but I decided to keep going instead. First time I got on the treadmill, it took me about an hour to run/walk 3 miles (5 km). I slept like a baby that night.

In a month, going to the gym after work became a habit, and I was doing it without thinking. It was like brushing my teeth every day. Yes, it was hard to overcome the lure of a cozy bed for an early morning run or to squeeze in a 3-miler after work, but I was seeing a slow progression — I was running longer and walking less. I put in the work despite my doubts and fears, and I was getting stronger, both physically and mentally.

I was still struggling, experiencing pain and discomfort, but I was patient and believed my work will eventually pay off. After every run, I felt a tiny bit stronger than yesterday. I had made a commitment to myself, and I was determined to not allow anything deviate me from my goals. To me, it wasn’t about how far or how fast I was running — it was about making a commitment to accomplish something hard and putting in the work to follow through.

It’s important to note that I was never athletic, exercising was such a taboo to me. I did not set out to run a marathon or even a 5K/10K race in the beginning. I was running my own race, with my own pace. I was going to the gym almost every day, rain or shine, I was listening to a playlist of fast-paced beats that kept me going during my workouts, and I was starting to feel better about the person I was seeing in the mirror.

In fact, my aspirations had nothing to do with running: I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight before my next trip to London on 4 May. A key detail about my initial embrace of exercising was a woman. There, I said it: a woman inspired me!

As the weeks progressed, I could sense a change. I was logging more miles on the treadmill, steadily increasing my mileage, and losing weight when, to my great surprise, I fell in love with running and embraced it into my lifestyle. Starting with the totally unrealistic goal of running a marathon right from the get-go would have been a recipe for disappointment and/or injury.

That winter, I went from dreading sports to looking forward to my next run. I now plot getaways with the best running views and run for my own enjoyment.

Running in Oslo

Running helps me shake the stress away. It’s great for my mental health. It changed my outlook.

Running makes me feel empowered and strong. Over two years later, I still chase that feeling (almost) every time I go out for a run, and I am incredibly grateful that I found a way to fall in love with running.

On 19 November ’17, I was bursting with pride after the final 100 yards at my first half marathon, the Cambridge Half Marathon. A year later, on 17 October ’18, I ran my first marathon, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

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