Interval Running is Still Running
I call myself a runner.
I mean, I’m an interval runner.
No. I’m a runner.
When I first started running I was about 60 pounds lighter and twelve years younger than I am today. I also wasn’t Catholic and never once invited God along for my runs. And certainly not the Blessed Mother! I hadn’t been much of an athlete but played in my fair share of basketball games for my middle school and my church throughout middle and high school. I even played church ball for a couple of years after college. I always wanted to play more sports but felt like I was too heavy to do well and didn’t want to risk being made fun of. I didn’t look as athletic as the other girls on the teams. And I actually wasn’t as athletic as many of them.
After college, I got bitten by the “I want to be a runner” bug. And when my best friend asked me to join her and her coworkers’ running group, I jumped at the opportunity. We ran a couple to three times a week, typically a 3-mile loop through our park. Sometimes there were eight of us, sometimes there was only two of us. It was awesome and SO. HARD. That group of coworkers took me in as one of their own and became friends of mine. They were all so encouraging and happy to share their love of the sport with a newbie. There was one person that would stay back with me when I needed to walk, and ran super slow with me when I ran. He never once judged me for being a mile behind everyone else. And he never once tried to make me go faster than I felt like I could… or faster than I wanted to go.
Over the next 10 years I ran several 5ks and a few 10ks. I distinctly remember the year I ran all but a mile of the Cooper River Bridge 10k Run in Charleston, SC. I sobbed when I crossed the finish line. I was all alone in a crowd of thousands because my friends were faster than me. But that’s not why I cried. I cried because, hard as it was, slow as I was, I ran five miles! I was so proud of myself.
But, there has always been a but… I didn’t run-run the whole thing. I had to walk some and run some and walk some more and run some more. I cried from the sense of accomplishment but I was kind of let down by myself not being able to run the whole way like my friends could.
Since I first started running with my friend all those years ago, I’ve run off and on. But it’s remained my favorite exercise, escape, sport. In 2015 my sister-in-law was signing up for a half marathon and I thought, “I want to do it too! Maybe training for a race again will motivate me. And a half marathon would be a serious accomplishment!” The ladies she had been training with are interval runners. I had never heard of such a thing. They are several years older than us and run all kinds of races this way. Short distance races and long distance races alike.
We used to meet on Saturday mornings for our long runs when we were training for the half. The first Saturday I met up with them, my sister-in-law stayed with me the whole time and introduced me to this whole “interval running” thing. It’s simply alternating running and walking. We used an app called Runkeeper because you can set up interval reminders. The app will tell you when to walk and when to run. The intervals were set at 30-30 - that’s 30 seconds of running, 30 seconds of walking. I ran four miles the first Saturday I ran with them. And I hadn’t run in months before that day. I couldn’t believe it!
Just like non-interval running, the first mile is still the worst. Your legs feel heavy the first few times you run after walking, but then you find your breath and your pace and you can soar. As we started getting up in mileage for our half marathon training, things got tougher. If you’re a runner, you know the drill. YOU get in the way. Your head starts racing and you start thinking too much about your feet and your shoes and your knees and then your breath gets out of whack and you “just can’t do it anymore.” That’s when the Hail Marys kick in for me. That simple, well known prayer takes my mind off of me and my body and onto Mary, onto Jesus, onto God. And I make it through the rest of the run.
I never did get to run that half marathon. I had to stop training after I made it to the eight mile training run because I found out I was pregnant, and soon after found out I had a miscarriage. It has been a challenge for me to find my rhythm with running again. I ran a 5k about a year after my miscarriage. I ran intervals and I prayed the entire way. I had so many emotions running through me. I relied on my Hail Marys and repeating “Please God, help me do this. Jesus, I trust in you” with every step. The running itself wasn’t bad. Interval running has totally changed my running game. It was just the emotional rollercoaster of running again for the first real time since the tragedy. When I could see the finish line I’m not sure if I sped up or slowed down. I cried for a solid eighth of a mile. And I lost it completely when I crossed the finish. I was back.
Can you call yourself a runner if you don’t just run? Absolutely. Grace abounds. It took me a long time to stop saying “Well, I mean, I run intervals” and just say “I’m a runner.” I always wanted to belittle it, like walk-running was not worthy. I’m not an elite runner. I don’t want to be. But I am a runner.
Whether you run a sub-seven minute mile or walk more than you run, you’re a runner too. I pray you don’t struggle with labels like I have for defining your sport. You’re a runner.
Jessica is a 37 year-old Catholic wife in Greenville, SC. She has a B.S. in Business Administration and works as a banking loan administrator during the day. Her evenings and weekends are most often filled with family activities and home DIY projects. While she still considers herself a beginner, Jessica started running over 10 years ago. She enjoys running through the beautiful landscape her city has to offer and has run in several local 5k's as well as the Cooper River Bridge Run 10k a handful of times. One day she'll run a half marathon! Running gives Jessica a sense of accomplishment and it makes her feel strong. On solo runs, she prays the rosary because it helps her to focus on the mysteries rather than her fitness level. You can connect with Jessica on Instagram.