Outdoor running has helped to take me out of my comfort zone in the gym. For most of my fitness journey, I spent my time working out indoors on the treadmill, in the comfort of central air conditioning. When COVID-19 took the world by storm, for the first time ever, I was faced with the challenge of maintaining my fitness routine without the assistance of a machine. Scary thought!
When I started running outdoors, I started by running laps around my apartment community’s parking lot. I might’ve been as slow as a peanut butter milkshake but, hey, I was out there. No buttons, no humming of the machines, no cords, no walls –just me and the great outdoors. Over time, I became a much better runner. I was still relatively slow but at least I could go for miles.
Little did I know, this transition out of my comfort zone would start to affect different aspects of my life. When faced with a tough situation, I would think, I just pushed myself through 5 miles of running this morning, and they don’t call my part of town “Hill Country” for no reason. If I could carry myself through that, I can definitely handle this. Outdoor running also helped me to gain a new-found appreciation for nature. Since I work a desk job, I’m surrounded by screens all the time. Even in the gym, there are TVs built into the treadmills! Getting outside with the fresh air and running somewhere scenic such as a forested area or along a trail beside the lake has helped me to “unplug” and get away from things I didn’t even realize I needed escaping from.
Outdoor running provides me with such an amazing feeling of liberation. Don’t get me wrong, the gym will always be my sanctuary but the “dreadmill” can start to feel like a hamster wheel after a while. When you’re on a fitness journey, the last thing you want is to become bored with anything. Whether it’s the food you’re eating or your workout routine, boredom is the enemy of success. Outdoor running provides you with the opportunity to really break free, take in the fresh air and, dare I say, appreciate more of life itself. Also, as a person with asthma, I’ve found that I can even breathe better when I run outside!
TTC: What is one tip you wish you could tell every beginner runner?
Keesh: Save your gas for the last. In other words, don’t start your run full speed ahead. Start out lightly and build up speed as you go. It can be tempting to start out fast because you’ve just started the workout and you’re prepared to get moving, but the faster you go in the beginning, the slower you’ll be towards the end. Get some distance under your feet first before you crank things up a notch.
TTC: What keeps you going when you really want to stop?
Keesh: When my body is screaming to stop, what it really needs is a moment to catch up. I usually slow down to a conversational pace (a speed where if you were running with a partner, you’d be able to maintain a conversation while still jogging). At first it’s hard because my heart is usually beating out of my chest and I want nothing more than to end it all, but, shortly thereafter, when my heart rate comes down and my body naturally relaxes, the urge to stop isn’t so bad. After doing this a few times throughout the run, I realize, wow, I’m still going! This little boost of motivation combined with the realization that I’m in control of the workout helps me to finish strong!
TTC: Tell us about one of your best runs ever.
Keesh: My very first 5k run during the Arthritis Foundation’s 2019 Jingle Bell Run. I had never ran in any “official” race, and I was there all alone. Surprisingly, although I was surrounded by people I’d never met, I didn’t feel like they were strangers. It felt like we were all there to complete a common goal, to finish strong. I ran a consistent pace and where the old me would’ve given up, I looked around at the other runners and I pushed myself to keep going. As I started to come up on the finish line I looked to my right and these other runners who had finished before me were there cheering me on! They didn’t know me or my story but we were somehow still connected through fitness, determination and sweet victory. That alone, was worthy enough to be celebrated.
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