The Secret to Running


You guys, I’m a terrible runner. But I decided to train for and attempt to run Dam to Dam this year. I don’t remember why I decided this. But, when I heard that it was changed to a half marathon recently, I nearly cried. I mean, I thought I might be able to run the 12.whatever-it-was, but when they added the 1.whatever-it-was to make it 13.1, I just kind of lost faith. I was even too lazy to do the actual math. What does that tell you? My brother says I’m not alone. The Internet was apparently abuzz with whiners like me.

While I’m not a naturally talented runner, my family is full of them. My brother ran the Des Moines Marathon last year, and my sister-in-law trained up to 18-some (unimaginable, if you ask me) miles and then found out she was pregnant. Are you kidding me?! How talented do you have to be to run that far AND not barf from pregnancy? I could never do it. Anyway, I believe that I should have inherited awesome running genes from my… brother and his wife…?  Wait.

Right. I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way.


Truth is, I’m in trouble. It’s coming up…. I can only run 3 miles or so and then I’m walking. I bought new gear for the occasion thinking this might help me run farther. I purchased a fancy running watch with GPS to remind me how slow I am and how not far I’ve run. For example, the first night I got it in the mail, I went for a run. I was very enthusiastic!! I was going to run 4 miles for the first time! I set out. My pace was good (for me)!!! 8.5-9/mile, it said. Although that is not good per se compared to the rest of the world, I thought I was impressive. The miles came easy. My watch said 3.5 as I neared my driveway again and my kids ran out to greet me. I had to stop to see them. And I also HAD to stop.

Runner“I ran 3.5 miles in 23 minutes!” I screeched to Steve. “I did it! I’m so proud of myself. I’m like a Kenyan runner!” I said.

He gave me an obligatory high-five as he worked in the shed.

I slumped down into my rocking camping chair and watched my son ride his bike in circles and my oldest walk around in circles in the yard, sulking (it’s the age). I studied my watch.

I studied my numbers, still impressed with my awesomeness and the relative ease in which I achieved this greatness. And then I saw it. Two letters I’ll never forget. They are burned into my memory.


They were small. So small I had easily overlooked them and had to squint to see them then. Small letters, but oh so significant. I went pale. I felt like barfing. Steve asked what was wrong.

“My watch says k-k-kilometers,” I whispered.

“Oh…. nooo.” Steve said quietly. He had the same guarded tone that he uses when he knows I’m extremely hangry. (Hungry + angry.)

I could hear my Kenyan runner dreams crumble to the ground.

“Who the #@$% uses kilometers anyway!!!!” I spat.

And this, my friends, is why training for Dam to Dam is harder than it would seem. It’s people like me who give “amateur” its definition. No new Brooks running shoes or GPS watches, no spandex pants (gross, sorry) or headbands can bring back my Kenyan pride.

What can? I desperately asked my brother and his wife this question the other night during dinner. What can I do to not suck so terribly at running? Does it get any better? What is the SECRET?! I wanted to know.

  • Keep running, they said.
  • Don’t give up, they said.
  • Run often, they said.
  • Even if you have to walk a little, do the distance, they said.

Great. That sounds like a lot of trying to me. Apparently, there is no secret pill that makes you an amazing runner?

recently read an article written by an experienced runner to an amateur runner who ran on the same track. It started out a bit condescending toward the amateur runner as he passed the slower person on the track over and over and over. But then it took a turn. A turn to respect. For with every step, each runner is only pushing himself, he said. The heavier you are or the slower you might be, the harder you have to push. Every step might be painful then. But it gets better. You get better. And you have no one else to thank for your success when you get there. Except God, for giving you the legs to run, and yourself, for taking the initiative to do it. Run those painful beginning steps. Kilometers or miles. 1 mile or 3 or 18. The runner is the one who achieves those miles, the only one who could do that for herself. And that deserves respect.

I have never been one to respect myself. I’m harder on myself than anyone. So, here I am. I’ll listen to these amazing seasoned runners. I’m starting anew. I’ll work to respect myself and the process – the hard work, the sweat, and the incredibly sore hips.

There are a few benefits I’ve found in running that I’ll share with you.

1. My kids join me. Here is Sophie at Midnight Madness in Ames last summer. They give the kids capes for the kids’ fun run!!


2. Feeling like a boss afterward. Even though I don’t feel good physically after a run, I am mentally soaring. The feeling of being out and about in the weather, whatever it might be – wind, sun, or clouds. The music in my ears and the time in my own head to sort out my thoughts. And when it’s all done, I feel renewed.

3. Friends. I can run twice as far with half the pain when I run with a friend. I prefer not fast friends if I can find them, but I’ll take anyone willing to meet me for a run. This is my running partner, Jess. This was our first 5K together!


4. Health. This is obvious, but it is not to be overlooked.

Bonus: Steve has fixed the settings on my watch. It even knows how much I weigh now. Oh goodie.

Tomorrow is a new day. There’s a new sunset to see, weather to experience, excellent advice from running professionals to implement into my running repertoire, and lots and lots of wide open road.


Anybody out there joining me for Dam to Dam? Do you have a running secret to share?


  1. Mel- I am right there with ya- literally… lol. You were MY inspiration for even trying to run. If you hadn’t convinced me to try, I would have never got out there. THANK YOU! You have more power than you think- run, walk, it’s gonna happen. Look out Dam to Dam.

  2. Okay! It’s a sign! I just was contemplating signing up for D2D this morning! I am quite the novice runner as well, but there is strength in numbers, right? Let’s do this! 🙂


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