You know those bumper stickers, the ones that say “0.0 I DON’T RUN?” That was me until a couple years ago. Despite exercising nearly every day, I never considered myself a runner, nor did I have any desire to be one.

I knew people who were runners, and I thought they were crazy. These were people who yearned to run marathons, who ran so much their toenails fell off and their nipples bled, who ran even when doctors insisted they take a break because of an injury. I am NOT that kind of a runner nor do I ever plan to be, and I still think those people are a bit crazy. The difference is now I have some insight into their pure love of running.

My journey into running began with my oldest daughter. When she was in the third grade, her school offered a program called Girls On The Run. This is a fantastic non-profit, afterschool program for girls. Through running, they work to inspire girls to be healthy and joyful. Over the course of ten weeks, the girls learn to understand themselves, value others and work as a team all while training for a 5K. As far as school sponsored programs go, I was sold.

During her first year in the program, I cheered her on enthusiastically but I did not join in. My husband actually ran the first few 5Ks with her (partly due to my work schedule). As the seasons stacked up, my daughter began asking me to run with her as well. “I don’t run.” “I’m not a runner” These were often my replies.

I finally gave in during the spring session of her second year when her practice 5K landed on a day I did not have to work. I figured, “I exercise every day. I’m in shape. This should be no problem.” Boy, was I wrong.

First off, I walked at least half of the three-mile run. I could not even keep up with my 10-year-old. Later that evening (and for several days following), the muscles in my legs were silently screaming at me to never do that again. I, on the other hand, did not agree. I considered their protest to be a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself and my daughter that I could do this.

My first step to beginning a running program (which, in my expert opinion, should be everyone’s), was to spend a lot of money on cute running shoes and clothes. Once I’d invested in this endeavor financially, I definitely felt more inspired to follow through. In all seriousness, though, a good pair of running shoes is necessary. Once I had the proper footwear, my running immediately improved. Granted I wasn’t running a marathon due to a pair of shoes, but I felt lighter and more comfortable.

I started slowly, only one mile at a time and running only on the downhills. Then I would add in the flat areas, finally followed by the uphill stretches. Once I mastered a mile, I added on another mile, then another. I didn’t follow anyone’s program. I just did what felt right and tried to push myself a little further each time I went for a run.

To this day, the most I’ve run is a 5K, and I really have no desire at this time to do more. Three miles is more than enough for me. I also only like to run when the temperature outside is above 45 degrees, so in Wisconsin that usually means April to November. I’m not striving for a six-minute mile, but I am proud of every second I take off my time. To some, I may not be considered a true runner. But in my heart, I know I am. I am a runner because…

When the weather in Wisconsin turns warmer, I get the itch to get outside and feel the air and the sunshine on my skin as I breeze down a hill.

When I am running, I am at peace. My mind clears, and I can focus in a way that few other activities allow me to.

Running is truly a solitary sport. I am only ever running against myself, pushing myself for another personal best.

The feeling I get when I finish a run, no matter the distance or the time it took, is pure exhilaration.

Running allows me to experience my surroundings in a whole new way. I never realized how beautiful my neighborhood was until I started running.

Most importantly, though, running has given me a new way to bond with my daughters. My oldest has graduated from Girls on the Run, but she still runs the 5Ks with me and hopes to run in middle school. Now, my second oldest is in her third season of Girls on the Run, and my youngest daughter is counting down the days until she is eligible to join. It brings me so much joy to see my daughters empowered and excited about doing something healthy and good for them. There is nothing like the feeling of watching your kids accomplish something they worked so hard for, of crossing a finish line holding hands with your daughters as the crowd cheers.

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