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From Couch To 5K: Leaving My Self-Doubt In The Dust

Holly Robinson lets go of her fear and puts on her running shoes. (Bruno Nascimento/Unsplash)MoreCloseclosemore
Holly Robinson lets go of her fear and puts on her running shoes. (Bruno Nascimento/Unsplash)

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I was never a runner, but I’m the mother of three champion long-distance runners. I showed up at almost every race, bellowing, “Go, go, go!” Then I’d go home and eat cookies on the couch.

Time passed. My kids left home and continued to run — two of them recently ran a 50K race. Meanwhile, my bum kept getting wider and my belly softer.

Then, one day, I spotted an ad in our local paper for a “Couch to 5K” program run by a local fitness coach.

“I can’t afford it,” I thought, as I emailed the coach for details about the program.

The coach emailed back and said it was free. “Hope to see you there!”

I snorted and emailed back. “I’m too old. My knees bother me on stairs.”

“We start very slowly,” she promised. “Come join us!”

The first Saturday of the Couch to 5k program dawned bright and sunny, and I had run out of excuses.

I probably wouldn’t do it it, I thought. What was the point of starting to run, when I had already reached the slippery downward slope of late middle age? Still, I needed sneakers, so I decided to buy running shoes on sale, just in case.

The first Saturday of the Couch to 5k program dawned bright and sunny, and I had run out of excuses. I drove to the local high school track and met the coach, who was every bit as chipper as her emails: a woman in her late 60s with the sinewy body of a woman in her 20s. I pulled my sweatshirt down over my hips and wished I’d worn something on my head other than my daughter’s Rastafarian striped wool hat.

“I have three words for you to remember,” the coach said, as she explained the program. “Prepare, believe, achieve.” We were preparing to run the 5K starting today, she said. Now we had to believe in ourselves enough to stick with the program — 20 minutes, three times a week — and we would achieve our goal. It was as simple as that.

I set off in the middle of the pack. We alternated between walking and jogging for 20 minutes. By the end, I was winded, but still upright and breathing. My knees didn’t feel a thing. I shed my jacket, then my hat and gloves. I made it through the first day. Maybe I’d come for a second training session.

“Each race starts with the first step,” I heard a woman encourage her friend huffing along on the track beside me.

I kept going to practices, twice a week in the evenings, and early on Saturday mornings. Before long, I found that I was looking forward to them, not because the running got easier — with each practice, we ran longer or faster or a different course involving ghastly hills — but because I was now part of a community of runners.

Each time I ran, it was a matter of defeating my inner Eeyore. Like that doleful, pessimistic donkey in the "Winnie The Pooh" series, my Eeyore was a voice in my head trying to convince me that I was doomed to fail.

“This is too hard, too hot, too long to do,” he moaned in my ear. “Just walk, already. So much easier! What are you, crazy?”

At times, it felt like Eeyore was waiting around every corner, ready to reach out a hoof and trip me, or hang onto my feet and pull me down onto the road. “Lie down! Your legs hurt! You're killing yourself!” he intoned. “Stop running before you get too tired!”

Each time I ran, it was a matter of defeating my inner Eeyore.

I didn't stop. I ignored his voice by pretending my feet were on a conveyor belt at times, just one foot in front of the other, as if the road was moving beneath me rather than me moving on top of the road. And, by the time the 5K race rolled around, our final exam, I was determined to take part. So what if I had to walk part of the race? I was going to earn that damn t-shirt along with the rest of the people in the program who had stuck it out.

I did the race. Sure enough, Eeyore showed up at the first hill, telling me to stop, “The hill's too steep! You'll have a heart attack!”

I ignored Eeyore and cut my steps in half. “Baby steps on the hill!” my coach had said, and that's what I did.

Eeyore showed up again when the rain began falling during the final stretch, bucketing so hard that I could barely see the runners in front of me. “You'll slip and fall,” he warned. “What's the point of running if you break a leg?”

I kept running, muttering, “Shut up, Eeyore,” until finally he was too far behind for me to hear him anymore.

I've run another 5K since then. More importantly, I've learned that, whether I'm running or taking on a challenging new work assignment, I can outrun Eeyore, even if it means taking baby steps on the hills. It's just a matter of leaving my doubts behind.

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Holly Robinson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is "Folly Cove." She is also the author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir."

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