My diagnosis was a wake-up call. It was time to take care of my health.
As I was laying down on a hospital bed on May 1, 2019, fearful I would not make it through the night, I made a promise to myself: I would become a runner.
It was a crazy promise for anyone who knew me. Running was the last thing I would ever consider doing, even under threat. The thing is, there was a threat: I had just been transported from my home to the hospital, barely conscious, suddenly unable to breathe on my own, and I had just been told I had type 2 diabetes.
As frightening as it was, the truth is that night marked a new chapter in my life.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was 45 years old, married, a mother of 2 children, and running my own business, a bookstore. Like most working parents, I was on a constant chase for more time, and that chase was never successful.
I was doing the opposite of what a flight attendant tells you to do on an airplane. I was putting everyone’s oxygen mask on first, and when it came to me, all the oxygen had already been sucked up.
I was overweight, with a sweet tooth and an affinity for chocolate. My justification was that I only liked dark chocolate, and I was a real snob when it came to the quality of chocolate I would eat.
I had a gym membership to my local YMCA, but I made only brief appearances there and never really pushed myself to do more and be better.
My body was giving up on me that night — but I was not ready to give up on life. I had too much to live for.
I had been in love with my husband for 25 years. We had built a life I loved. Our children, 14 and 11 at the time, were the apples of my eyes. I finally owned a bookstore, which had been my professional dream my entire adult life. I was surrounded by loving friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic (I am originally from France).
I spent that first night alternating between tears of anger, fear, guilt, and desperation. How could I have let this happen to me? I should have done better. I should have woken up years earlier and taken charge of my own health.
To this day, I still don’t know what overtook me with this promise to myself to become a runner, but I do know that it saved my life.
Running was the most challenging physical activity, the one I despised for years and the one I swore I would never partake in. If I was to survive that hospital stay it would be my wake-up call. I had to answer it in the most unhinged way I could think of. I would take up running and stick around for the long run!
I was discharged 2 days later. One of my first calls was to my friend Tracy, who is a seasoned marathon runner. I told her: “Tracy, I need you to teach me how to run”.
Early the next morning, she was at my doorstep. She explained that running was like any other form of physical activity: It takes practice and patience.
On the first day she asked me to run at my own pace for one block without stopping and then to walk two blocks. I had walked that block hundreds of times without even giving it a thought. Running it was another story.
As I reached the end of the block I was panting and sweating profusely. I screamed to Tracy, “I am going to die!”
She laughed it off and replied, calmly and warmly, “No, Marianne, you won’t, and a week from now, this block will seem shorter to you than it has ever felt.”
She was, of course, right! Every day that week, Tracy guided me, encouraged me, cheered me on, and literally held my hand as I increased the distance I was running with each passing day.
My muscles screamed at me. I discovered muscles in my butt I did not even know I had. I was curious and looked up their actual names: Gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. Their scientific and Greek names started to be music to my ears, almost like a sexy song whispering to me for each additional step I conquered day after day.
I had heard from Tracy and other runner friends that, once my body would be used to running, the endorphin rush it would send through me would become irresistible.
As a non-runner I would laugh and respond that only skinny people could convince themselves of such a thing.
I clearly had never carefully understood the science behind this so-called “runner’s high.” Within 3 weeks of intense training and progress, I woke up one morning with a clear desire to get up, get out, and go running. What was happening to me?!
When I told Tracy, she had a slight smirk on her face and said, “Oh you mean your endorphins are playing a little trick on you?!”
On May 9, 2020, I ran my first 5K race. The pandemic had shut everything down, and the actual race Tracy and I had signed up for was cancelled. But a virtual 5K was encouraged for scheduled participants.
So on that cool May morning, Tracy and her youngest son Cody picked me up, and we set out to run 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). My husband, our children, and my friends Marcie and Jonathan were waiting for me at the finish line with loud cheers and a cute homemade ribbon I ran through.
I had done it! I felt like a legitimate runner — albeit at my slow pace. But I had finished, and I was smiling, happy, and feeling so alive. I knew on that day I could do things that seemed initially impossible.
When taking up a new practice at a later age, I have found these tips very useful.
Find an accountability buddy
I would send Tracy a photo at the end of each of my runs of my sweaty face and a screenshot of the distance I ran. Knowing that someone else is rooting you on — and may be disappointed if you break your promise to yourself — goes a long way.
It took me 45 years to discover I love running.
I carried excess weight for most of my adult life. The weight and bad habits were not going to come off overnight.
Set realistic goals
Have a reachable goal, stick to it, and talk about it with friends. Be proud of what you are accomplishing by improving your health.
Choose media wisely
When trying something new, it’s natural to try to read up on the activity as much as possible.
I’d recommend only reading books (or articles) that help you, not deflate you. One book that helped me and made me laugh so hard was “The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Butt and On With Your Training” by Dawn Dais.
Listen to something you can get lost in
I run with a book in my ears (Thank you, Libro.fm). It has enriched my running experience in ways I could have never imagined. As a professional bookseller, I get to listen to books I don’t have enough hours in a day to read. It’s a win-win.
Find what motivates you to get your feet moving.
Find what works for you
A running practice is not one-size-fits-all. Don’t be afraid to tailor it to your needs, your age, your body, and your abilities.
After 2 years of running 4 to 6 times per week, between 2 and 6 miles each time, I have ultimately learned that my mind is my main ally and beneficiary of my newfound love.
My brain power is what gets me out of bed between 5:30 and 6 a.m. My will to survive a lifelong medical condition is what makes me take each running stride joyfully (almost) every day.
When friends and family ask what benefits I have found in running, my answer is always the same. Sure, I have lost weight, my A1C is managed, and my endurance and strength almost feel as if I still was in my late 20s. But the most important gain I can feel from running is the improvement to my mental well-being.
Ask my kids: I am a much nicer person after I run!
Marianne Reiner lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two children, one dog, six chickens, and too many bees to count. She works as a bookseller and spends her free time writing, reading, compulsively drinking tea and cold brews, and running. She loves to cook, bake, and feed her friends, family, and community. Follow her bookish and other adventures on Instagram and on Twitter.