Last year, I starting riding a bike to work in an effort to not murder someone on the CTA and hopefully improve my fitness at the same time. I learned a lot in those first couple of weeks; drivers in Chicago despise bike riders more than Steve Bartman and Lovie Smith combined, speeding joyfully down a hill whilst reminiscing about the freedom you experienced as a child riding a bike lasts only as long as it takes for a car to pull into the intersection at the bottom, and people should really pay more attention before whipping their car door open on a busy street with a bike lane.
I loved riding the bike to work and can’t wait to start it up again. Of course – it has to be mentioned – this is partially because this winter is by far the biggest bitch I have ever encountered and the CTA, as hard as it tries, cannot possibly keep up. There’s too many people, there’s too much snow, there’s too much slush, there’s problems with Ventra, everything is freezing to itself – it sucks. My commute, on a good day, should be about 30 minutes, door to door. This year? It runs between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, and that’s on a day it’s NOT snowing. Which isn’t often. So the thought of walking out my door, not almost killing myself on the stairs, getting on a bike, riding through the wind and sunshine, and arriving at work not swearing and covered in salt and slush is extraordinarily appealing.
I did not take off any weight after starting this regimen. In fact, I gained some. That was disappointing – I mean seriously, who gains weight after going from zero activity to riding a bike six miles a day? The answer is someone who carb loads as if they are training for a marathon instead of mildly exercising for 40 minutes a day. (Very mildly. I’m so slow on the bike that everyone passes me. Old people, young people, overweight tourists on the Divvy bikes – everyone.) Baked macaroni and cheese, loaded mashed potatoes, and my favorite creation entitled spaghetti monster – baked spaghetti with cream cheese and mozzarella in the sauce – this is what I lived on. Unsurprisingly, by the time Christmas rolled around, I was a giant, puffy version of myself and more closely resembled John Goodman than I ever would have liked to.
Something had to give, and that something was carbs. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my newfound love affair with cauliflower as a substitute for every single thing I used to make – take a look at my Facebook and you can see plenty of that as I am, unfortunately, that person who now posts pictures of their dinner with alarming frequency. (But seriously – cauliflower pizza? Genius.) So I’d been feeling good, had taken some weight off, had more energy – all the good feels you get with eating better. And somehow, somewhere in my brain along the way, I got it in my head that I wanted to run one of the 5K’s that Chicago always hosts throughout the year.
Let’s get something straight right here. My family? We’re not runners. Even my little sister, who does run, who has run a half-marathon, who attends those terrifying-looking fitness classes that make me want to vomit just watching them – even she admits we are not runners. It’s not that we’re lazy or have never been athletic; in fact, some of my favorite memories are bike riding in the forest preserve as a family when we were younger. My sister and I always played softball or soccer, and she was a cheerleader and – believe it or not – I was in my high school dance troupe for two years.*
*People are always surprised by this. For some reason, they are never as surprised when I tell them I played the tuba. Go figure.
At any rate, the most I had run since high school was at a haunted house about 15 years ago when one of the actors chased me out the exit with a chainsaw. I ran about fifty yards out of sheer terror before my body realized what it was doing and I collided into a tree. So when the thought of running a 5K first crossed my mind, I dismissed it as pure madness. Like, Okay, Courtney, we’re not drowning in a vat of mac and cheese every night – let’s just go with that win instead of getting all crazy here, okay?
But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and soon I found myself researching 5K’s and how to get started running. I found a program called Couch to 5K promising to turn me from a couch potato into someone able to run three miles in nine weeks. I found myself looking up success stories and starting to think that I might be able to do it. There were other people, both smaller and bigger than myself, with pictures of themselves smiling with medals and thought, well, it’s worth a try. And I decided I would start the next day. And I did, which is possibly the first thing I’ve followed through on in three years.
Week One. Longest run time – 1 minute. I learned that when one is 35, out of shape, and an ex-heavy smoker, running for even such a short amount of time should be approached with more caution than exuberance. By the third repetition of the “run” portion of the workout, I was running slower than I was walking and being outpaced by toddlers in snowsuits.
Week Two. Longest run time – 1 1/2 minutes. An increase of a measly thirty seconds. Pssht. That’s nothing, right? I learned that thirty seconds is a really fucking long time when you’re trying to run.
Week Three. Longest run time – 3 minutes. This time, I knew. I knew it was going to be harder. So I downloaded some inspiring music to keep me going. I was feeling good and enjoying the challenge, so I really wanted to keep it up. I learned that just because you like a song does not mean that it is good to try and run to. (Eminem’s Lose Yourself? Good. Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe? Not as much.)
Week Four. Longest run time – 5 minutes. This is the week that I got hit in the ear with a piece of rock salt by a passing car so hard I almost went blind and Mother Nature dumped a whole shitload of snow and horribleness on Chicago – again – and I had to repeat it over the course of about three weeks. I learned that I should pay more attention to cars in my path and that Mother Nature is fucking pissed beyond belief at us for spraying all that Aquanet in the 80’s.
Week Five. Longest run time – 20 minutes. I know. Hell of a jump, right? It was eight minutes the first day, then the last day of the week – WHAM. Twenty minutes. Like you weren’t huffing and puffing through 90 seconds just a few weeks ago. I learned that this stupid app on my phone has been right since January, which is a longer track record than I’ve had in quite awhile.
I’m signed up for three 5K’s this year. The first one is the Race to Wrigley in April. I don’t know if I’ll be able to run to the whole thing. My app says I can, so I’m hopeful. But I do know that I will finish, whether it takes me 35 or 60 minutes. And if the Cubs’ past few seasons are any indication, it is the happiest Cubs fans will be all year at Wrigley unless they’re going to a concert there.
So there’s that.