This is Part 2 of my story of becoming a vegan runner. Check out part 1 if you haven’t already.
At 30 years old, having spent my 20s as a couch potato with very unhealthy habits, I really had next to zero thought about any athletic or fitness pursuits. I exercised a little, I suppose, having played some pick-up roller hockey in my early 20s and kicked a soccer ball around a little bit, but I had no intention of getting serious about it.
At the time I went vegan, though, it seemed like the crossover between endurance sports and veganism was really exploding. I learned about Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier and it was right about the time that Rich Roll would release “Finding Ultra” and was gaining some notoriety. There was a vegan triathlete club on Tumblr I came across all the time. Even the “Regular Joes” I was listening to on podcasts were into running. It seemed like it was just what vegans did.
I learned very quickly that running was not what I did. I tried. I used an app on my phone to chart a mile loop around a park in my neighborhood. I would burn myself out about every block, and have to stop for a rest at the turn around point. My lungs burning, legs sore. It wasn’t pleasant so I didn’t make a habit of doing it.
Something I’ve learned in the past 6 years is that even if you feel old and if you think you’ve wasted too much of your life, you can still surprise yourself. You’re more resilient than you can think, and you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. My first surprise was on a bike. It was in January in 2012. My truck was in the shop for an extended amount of time. My wife was gracious enough to drive me to and from work on the opposite side of town from her work on most of the days I was without my truck, but one shift didn’t match up with her schedule. I stuffed my beat-up old Huffy in the back of her car and filled my pocket with quarters planning to ride to the nearest bus stop. Instead I made the nearly 7 mile trip home on that beat up old Huffy. With that one trip my perception of myself completely changed. I started commuting by bike regularly. I invested in a non beat-up, non-Huffy. Cycling became my first fitness passion.
I sampled some other fitness pursuits. My wife and I took a class at the gym. I’d sometimes work up to that 1 mile run loop around my neighborhood park, with the long stop at halfway. My wife bought an elliptical off Craigslist. I was using that several nights a week during the winter 3 years ago, but it’s a noisy machine, it drives my dog nuts, and it’s located in the same room as our one TV. One January night, when my wife had a show she wanted to watch, I decided to go outside and try that mile run. I had some new insight to running I had gathered somewhere. I went out to do an easy run, and to run the whole way through the mile loop. Something happened when I got to the turnaround point: I didn’t stop, and I didn’t turn around. I went another block, then another. I ran slow and steady around my neighborhood. The app on my phone registered 2.1 miles. I felt elated. I surprised myself again a week later when I took a different route and got back home after 3.25 miles. I had to Google how long a 5k was, but was surprised to find that I had done it. Running a 5k race had been on my “maybe one day in the future” goals list for a while. Now I knew I could do it. I felt so accomplished, and I was hooked.
I ran my first 5k race that June. It was a mess of a race organizationally, and I didn’t end up with an official time. Strava said I did good, and I had a decent vegan/gluten free breakfast taco after the race, thanks to my wife snagging one of the few of them while I was running.
In August I ran a smaller race, and was surprised to hear my name called at the post race festivities for winning 2nd place in my age group. That race was a miserable experience. I was really discouraged and questioning why I was doing this to myself the whole time, and I thought I was pretty near the back as I kept getting passed even by a couple people pushing strollers. But it was a PR and an AG place, so I was encouraged in the end. A few weeks later I ran another even smaller 5k race and, struggled similarly, and similarly got passed by a mom with a stroller, but I felt stronger and took home first in the rare 26-35 age group.
I would go on to run two more 5k races in 2014. One really small one put on by an event planning club at the local university, and the fairly large, local Turkey Trot, which I’ve now made a tradition. But one of the most important things that happened to help keep the motivation up and keep pushing through the tougher aspects of becoming a runner was finding the Cranford Cove Fleet of Feet Run Club. It’s a little club that runs out of a downtown bar/tea house. I found them toward the end of 2014 when Rich Roll Podcast guest David Clark visited to run and do a talk and sell his book. Initially they did one group run a month. Now I am the de-facto leader of the club and we run twice a week most weeks, and I’ve made so many friends through it, (college age to 60s, men and women, blue collar folks to doctors and judges, it’s crazy,) which is so hard as an adult. I’ve also seen so many people come to do a fun run and are now pushing themselves to big goals. It’s been such an important part of my life. Our Thursday run is the highlight of my week every week. I love being a part of it.
That was 2014. At 33 years old I found an amazing new passion. I feel like I also found that I may have had a natural aptitude for running that I didn’t foster until I was in my 30s. That’s a little frustrating, but running has also helped me get more comfortable with not looking back and regretting things I can’t change. I found a passion for running when I found it, and I dove head first into it. Maybe a little too fast. I’ve come across some other passionate beginners online lately, trying to chase huge goals in a couple of months, and I want to caution those folks. I don’t want to sugar coat anything. All of those races I just talked about, at just over three miles, were miserable, but rewarding in the end. The training runs were tough but made me feel so amazing, surprised, and strong. But I did struggle with some beginner injuries like shin splints and foot pain and runner’s knee, but I got the running bug and was able to get back at it and not let those things be an excuse to give up. If you’ve got the running bug, foster it. Build the base. Find a crew to run with. Set challenging, but realistic goals. Those big goals will still be out there later, but not if you really hurt yourself or burn out fast.