I started running because it seemed like the most straightforward way to lose weight. Weight loss was the carrot dangling at the end of the stick motivating a lot of my decisions at the time. I would picture the body I hoped to one day have, and the affirmation I imagined getting from the people around me, and I would lace up my shoes and struggle through a few kilometres.
I hated it. I hated feeling out of breath. I hated how sluggish and slow I was. I hated the thud-thud of my feet on the hard pavement. I hated hating it — wrestling with the monkey-brain insistence that what I was doing was torturous and miserable.
Not surprisingly, my running efforts were sporadic. Wanting a trade-in on our bodies and thirsting after the affirmation of others aren’t actually the best motivators for inspiring real and lasting change. I would run a few times a week for a month or two. I sometimes turned over and went back to sleep when the early morning alarm sounded. I became adept at coming up with any number of things that felt like a better use of my time than doing this thing I dreaded so much.
That changed one bleak November day. I was as reluctant as ever to trudge through a morning run, but I had left my car at work the night before and had no option for getting across town other than by my own feet. I began to run. About 10 minutes in, I forgot to be miserable or to obsess about how far I had to go before I could stop. My mind slipped off into thinking about other things. When I focused my attention back on the task at hand, it was with surprise that I realized my breathing had become steady and rhythmic, my feet felt light, and there was some lovely feeling tingling its way through my body. “That’s adrenaline,” a runner friend told me later.
Fifteen years, two children and one major injury later, I am training for my first marathon. I tell anyone who will listen how much I love running.
That one bleak day allowed me to become a runner because of this one insight: the first 10 minutes are the worst. No matter how physically fit I become, no matter how much I know in my head that I enjoy running, when I first put shoe to pavement, my lungs feel like they are going to explode, my muscles ache and rebel, I am sure I have to pee even though I went just before leaving the house, and all of the kilometres that I have planned stretch endlessly and impossibly in front of me.
And if I can stick out those first 10 minutes, body and mind do begin to gel. A rhythm emerges that in those first 10 minutes seems unfathomable.
It turns out that this insight has been valuable in other aspects of my life, too. It helps me to invest time in people I might have written off and who are really worth getting to know; to discover that my brain is more pliable than I might have thought, and it is possible to learn new things; to be OK with awkward silence, and then to find that awkwardness turn into a deep, soul-cleansing breather from the noise of the world. Instant gratification is easy to come by, but a lot of what really makes life worth living requires a measure of patience and openness to stick it out past beginnings that aren’t comfortable or fun.
In the first 10 minutes, I force myself to keep putting one foot in front of another and the monkey in my brain has unfettered reign in undermining me. After that, the monkey moves on to other things, and I get to be someone who gets to run today.
Martha Tatarnic is an Anglican priest in St. Catharines, Ont., with running playing a huge part in how she keeps her life in balance. Her first book, The Living Diet, was published in 2019.