Run, Checkout Girl, Run

Even a blabbermouth who lets it all hang out on the internet is entitled to a secret or two. One of mine involves a lot of sweating, panting, and smiling in the dark. Okay, two of mine.

For months, nobody knew. Not my friends. Not my family. Not even my own children.

I would sneak out at night after everyone had gone to bed, dressed all in black, and ready for battle. I would return, much worse for the wear, sometimes bruised, and once covered in vomit. Always sweaty.

I am a secret runner.

It started out innocently. On Weight Watchers for about two months, I knew I was going to have to incorporate exercise if I wanted to continue shedding pounds.

But what? I mean, I’m not exactly what anyone would call “athletic.” I’m the girl who forged excuse notes when gym class called for any sport that might produce sweat. I’m the woman who got winded tying her shoes. I’m the lady who reconsidered getting involved with a wonderful man because he lived in a third floor walkup.

In fact, I’ve only ever enjoyed three sports: roller skating, tap dancing, and baton twirling (I excel at all, by the way). But I couldn’t figure out how to do any of those under the cover of darkness and without keeping the neighbors up.

“So, I’ll walk,” I thought. Everybody can walk, right? I do it practically every day!

I took a solo shopping trip, bought some athletic shoes and stretchy pants, and then came home and hid them in my closet. I didn’t want anybody to know about the walking at first–gripped by the fear that either I’d suck at it (even though I’d been doing it for, quite literally, almost 40 years) or give up because it was hard and I was fat.

A few weeks later, after consuming too much caffeine during the day, I decided to give it a go at about 10:00 PM. I strapped on those athletic shoes, squeezed into those stretchy pants, and fired up my circa-2005 iPod. I walked to the end of the block (uphill!) and felt OK, so I walked to the end of the next block. A few blocks later, I turned around and walked back home (downhill!).

The next night I tried it again, adding another block. The next, another.

But there was a problem: walking bored me. Walking might be fine for people my mother’s age or people who have movement restrictions, but I was overhauling my lifestyle and walking was just so slow. What’s the use of losing 30 lbs (at that point) if I was just going to amble around the block?

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room one day,1 I picked up a ladies health magazine on which the cover shouted “Running for Every Body”. Meh. Every body? Every body that read that kind of magazine, maybe. I wasn’t terribly interested, but I was there, waiting, and I had a body.

The article was about Couch to 5K, a program that promised to transform even the least athletic person into someone who could run a 5K (3.1 miles) in just 12 weeks. It took only three 20-minute sessions each week. Yeah, right. But week one alternated 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking, and I thought maybe I could do that.

Now you should know that running, specifically, is why I chose dance class over PE in my sophomore year. Born without whatever gene coordinates a person I certainly wasn’t a dancer, but running was what I imagined hell to be like: circling a dusty track, gripped by side stitches, lapped two and three times by fitter classmates. Satan presided over that activity, or at least enjoyed it on some evil version of a Nanny Cam.

So, the running didn’t exactly appeal to me. But jazzing up my walks did–a lot.

Night one went OK–a little huffy, a little puffy, but nothing like I feared. In fact, in some strange way, it felt sort of…natural. My stride was immediately comfortable, and my breathing regulated itself into a steady rhythm. I was really, really slow, but I smiled the entire time.

After a day of not running, but still smiling, I tried again. And then again. And then again.

I invested in a pedometer and watched my mileage increase week after week like some kind of video game where I racked up points for exercising. I joined a website where I could log both my workouts and my feelings about them–a sort of run journal which also happened to calculate things like calories burned and pace. Three nights a week, I snuck out of my house and secretly challenged myself to get better.

At the end of twelve weeks, each time I covertly suited up and left the house I ran nearly 5k. Before I knew it, I was a runner, and it was time to see my doctor, again.

The doctor was amazed at the transformation in my health: my weight was down by 45 lbs and my cholesterol was headed in the right direction (with additional help from a fish oil supplement). She even gave me permission to ixnay on the diabetes meds.

Now, I’m down 60 lbs and training for my first half marathon, which I’ll attempt in September. I’m still really, really slow, but it turns out I can run kind of a long way. Even better than the obvious physical benefits are the emotional benefits, including, but certainly not limited to, stress relief and the thrill that comes from achieving something that once seemed impossible.

Running has changed me. I get restless on my ironically named “rest days” and can’t wait to hit the road on run days. I still log my miles in the dark, but eventually plan on venturing out in the light of day. As they say, “one step at a time.” You can bet it will be a slow step–and I’ll be smiling.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Oh, did I mention I had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes due to my excess weight and that my cholesterol was over 300? Yeah. 
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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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