1. Close your computer. Do not Google “how to start running” or “half marathon training plan” or “couch to 5k” or “10 tips to get you running in the new year”. Do not click on that Hal Higdon website that promises to turn you into a runner. Don’t do it.
2. Find the shoes. You know, the ones that you bought a lifetime ago, right before you moved to Portland when you were convinced that this would be the time in your life for reinvention and that you would admit to exercising by doing so publicly. You used the shoes to run on the track in the park by your new home exactly three times as a way to distract yourself from waiting by your flip phone for that boy you met to call you, as he said he would. This was before you realized that he is Not A Caller. He would never call and you would end up calling him. It’s fine, though, because while you were together he would listen intently and make you laugh and remind you that bikes are infinitely better than traveling by foot and you would marry him. You put the shoes away in a plastic bag that you got from buying hair dye at the drug store and then moved them, in that same bag, from house to house. Five houses later, they are still in that same bag. Open the bag. They will smell like the past twelve years. Put them on anyway.
3. Gather your running clothes. You will question what one wears to run. You will recall seeing people who seem more fit, more cool, more athletic than you are now wearing skin tight leggings, instead of the baggy shorts that you purchased from Pamida in the 12th grade. You will type “running leggings'' into Google. (Don’t try to fight it, it has to happen.) You will spend too much on a few pieces of fabric that you cannot imagine add up to more than $50, yet somehow they do. You will decide that because of their price and reviews they will fit like magic and immediately turn you into a runner who looks like someone from the magazines, but instead you will get them and then realize that they hug to your body in such a way that they expose the gentle roll of pudge on your waistline and make have camel toe like no one has ever had it before. Because of this you will ponder the size of your labia. You will remember an article that you read in Seventeen when you were in middle school, the one about how the girl got labia reduction surgery because hers were so big and therefore there was something wrong with her. You will think about how fucked up it is that this article was in a magazine targeted at teenage girls and you will tell yourself that one should never mangle their genitalia to meet some societal standards of beauty. But then you will ponder if these pants are evidence yours are indeed too large. You will then ponder if this thought pattern is evidence that the patriarchy has fully infiltrated your brain and ruined your body image? This will propel you to put the pants on, camel toe and all. Their tightness will be slightly painful, but you should still wear them. You paid too much money for them and this is your penance. You will grow to love them. They will not only help you run comfortably, but also come to terms with the size of your labia and body shape.
4. Decide what you will listen to. This is perhaps the most important part because you will need sound piping through your ears to help you forget that you are running. Also, it is important because you will learn to not measure your runs based on length or distance or speed, but instead on how many songs or albums or podcasts you listen to along the way. Choose something that you can lose yourself within, something that will help you to forgive yourself for becoming a runner. Maybe start with a podcast about the Satanic Panic. Move onto something about the book Lolita. Lean into today’s greatest hits. Listen to sad songs. And be sure to wear your biggest headphones. The ones that go over your ears and shout “do not try to talk to me, I am in my own world and you are not invited”.
5. Start running. This is the part you’ve been waiting for or dreading, maybe a little bit of both. Run as long as you feel like it. It might be .5 miles or it might be 5 or it might be the length of 10 songs or 2. It doesn’t matter. Just stop when you are ready. Walk along the way whenever you feel like you need to. You will hate every single stride. The next day your knees will scream at you. You will scream obscenities back at them and swear that you will never run again.
6. Complain. Spend a day telling everyone in your life that you tried running and that you hate it and that you’ll never ever do it again and you cannot understand why anyone does this disgusting thing. You will be very self-righteous about it.
7. Wake up the next day and repeat steps 1-5.
8. Start noticing that other people run too. The people that will run past you will be much faster and their pants will fit far better. This will make you feel slow and inadequate. Instead of allowing this to be your excuse for quitting, yell at them “you’re so fast!”. This will make them laugh and you smile and then you will remember something you read in a health textbook in fifth grade about it taking fewer muscles to smile than to frown and although you typically hate it when people suggest that smiling is somehow a superior option for how to organize your face, you will start smiling as you run, to save your leg muscles in the hopes that you’ll be able to make it to the end of the album this time.
9. Imagine the things that people say about you when you’re not there. Run faster.
10. Imagine that no one thinks about you at all anymore. Run farther.
11. Get to that place. You know, the one where you are free from responsibility or judgement, where your mind wonders/wanders. You will begin to realize that perhaps this is why people love running.
12. Begin carrying a pen and a small notebook with you. You’ll probably have to start wearing a fanny pack, unless you have pants with large pockets, which you do not because you instead have skintight leggings that only kind of fit and only have a small pocket which you assume is only meant to carry your keys, which you never do and therefore sometimes return to the house to find yourself locked out. Sometimes as you are running, an idea or a phrase or a thought will pop into your head. You will be grateful then for your fanny pack with the pen and the paper and you will stop running and crouch down to the ground and write your thought down. From time to time, people will see you sweaty and disheveled and with your running tights clinging to your labia as you are balled up on the sidewalk, sometimes lost in thought and staring up at the sky, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling, and they will ask if you’re okay. Smile broadly at them, but say nothing and allow them to wonder. Imagine them telling their friends about the sad girl that they saw taking a break from running to cry. Imagine yourself as a character in a Taylor Swift song. Running is melodramatic and so are you.
13. Do not run with anyone else. Ever. It is hard for two people to ever find the same level of joy in misery.
14. At some point you will realize that you have been running every day. You will not know your pace or how far you run, but you will know that you are doing it. You will keep doing it not because you are training or attempting to reach some goal, but because of how it makes you feel.
15. Keep going. You will remember when you were young that you used to say that you would never date a runner because running seemed to be a stand in for religion for some people, and you had no interest in religion. You will ponder that maybe running has indeed become your version of church or prayer. You will laugh at the absolute melodrama of that thought. You will be ok with it, though, and you will keep running.
The longer I stood there, the longer I had to stand there. It was intricate and exponential. I looked like I was doing nothing, but really I was as busy as a physicist or a politician. I was strategizing my next move. That my next move was always not to move didn’t make it any easier."
- Miranda July, 'Roy Spivey'
In advance of my 35th birthday, I began reflecting on the past year and smiling at a whole lot of good memories, but also realizing (again, and again) that I have a tendency to spend way (way!) too much time 'strategizing my next move'.
In an effort to confront this, I solicited some advice from friends about ways to spend my time over the next year of my life, and then employed my third grade-level art "skills" to make myself some elementary school-style worksheets to track my progress.
Here's to 35!