I think that now, finally, might be a decent time to talk about my unhealthy relationship with running. As I’m writing this, I can feel the tightness inside my chest and the uncomfortable feeling of my steadily rising heart beat. Is there such a things as “runner’s anxiety”? I think I will google it.
Growing up, I thought very little about running. I knew I was fast, for short distances, but never really pushed myself beyond that. Entering junior high, I chose basketball instead of cross country (hey, 13 year-old-Amber, CHOOSE CROSS COUNTRY!) and therefore my runs were limited to a few laps around the basketball court. This suited me just fine.
Unfortunately, the Army requires more than a short run around a high school gym. I was unprepared for the two-mile run the Army requires as a test to your physical ability. Before every “run” day, I would sleep terribly, wake up feeling nauseous and on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. The key to running, I think, really lies in not over-exerting yourself. Well, when your heart rate BEFORE a PT test is higher than many people’s heart rates DURING the PT test, you’re not in for a “comfortable” run. There were times, even while clutching my good luck charm (a smooth, red glass heart my teacher had given me before leaving for Basic Training inscribed with one word, “courage”), that I would start crying in the middle of a run. Somehow, I managed to hold it together long enough to finish each run and never “fell-out” (when you basically stop running and move to the side of the road to start walking, causing your drill-sergeants to tear into you with their razor sharp drill-sergeant teeth).
PT test mornings put my anxiety through the roof, but I never failed my run (or any event) on the PT test. Unfortunately, my consecutive, continuously high scores were not enough to convince me that I would ever be “okay” when taking a run for PT test. Even in my advanced schooling, all four months of it with its three to four mile runs every other day, my fastest two-mile time ever was 17:30.
Fast forward a few years to my second tour in Iraq when running, although rather slowly and un-enthusiasctically, became a part of my daily life. With little else to do for entrainment, I’d run three to four miles every other day, though it would take me the better part of an hour to finish. Running on my own terms, rather than running because I was being tested, helped me to tolerate (and maybe, just a little, enjoy) it. Once I was home, however, I lost my running partner and then my husband, and running became a foreign idea once again. For my first scheduled PT test with my new unit, I requested to be tested on a different day, with only one other person being graded. Because of the other person’s schedule, I had to take the PT test a week from when I asked for the special treatment, I think I took one practice run and hoped for the best. The day of, I took an anti-anxiety pill, followed by some red-bull, and squeaked in seven seconds under my allotted time.
Last September, I decided to suck-it-up and take the PT test with the rest of my unit. I was slightly more prepared and had been trying to increase the amount of time I would spend running versus walking (which has ALWAYS been my issue, I run t0o fast, too early and am walking by minute 10) and three or four days prior to the test, I did my practice run and came in just in the nick of time. The day of the PT came two days before my 26 birthday, and I promised myself that for my own present, I’d be passing my run. By roughly 12 minutes in, I was walking, but somehow I found a way to keep going. With my boyfriend screaming for the finish line (drill sergeant like, angry and ferocious and, actually, scary) I crossed with roughly 30 seconds to spare.
Since September, I’ve been running at least once a week, along with my four nights of Zumba class and my five-mile dog walks two days each week. I have been running on the treadmill and outside, while on the cruise ship last month and in both Atlanta and Virginia while traveling. In the last two weeks, and especially since finding out that my very first drill with my new National Guard unit is their PT test drill, I’ve been running three or four days a week. In the last week alone, I’ve run MORE than two miles with more than a minute left to spare on my cut-0ff time. I have learned to control my breathing, to smile for as long as possible to keep my negative feelings at bay and have stopped walking unless I felt like I might be split in two by a cramp in my side.
With all of this prep work, I should be prepared for tonight, when I will be lacing up to prove to my new unit that they were right about choosing to bring me in. The problem is, I have no idea whether or not I am prepared. Physically, I am in much better shape than I was six months ago. I am 15 lbs lighter than when I took my last PT test, I am hydrated, I have been eating healthy, I have already run these two miles in nearly record time. I keep turning these things over in my mind, examining them and hoping that they will be enough to propel me through the one hour where I am completely at the mercy of my muscles, my heart rate and my breathing. I am definitely my own worst enemy, and I know that the beat-down I will give myself following this PT (if I fail) will be much, much worse than the shortness of breath I experience during it. Maybe I can scare myself into passing.