Throughout my 20's and 30's, I dabbled in various gym activities--starting with aerobics and then working my way up to boot camps and boxing classes. (And, yes, some friends reading this will remember the times I got so into those classes, I literally drooled! Not the prettiest sight.)
But, it wasn't until a friend asked me to join her in a Couch to 5K program that I decided to start running. I think it was because she had been so amused at my drool, she wanted to see how funny I could look when I ran.
I don't think I took the idea very seriously. I'm pretty sure that I thought I'd just add running here and there to my regular repertoire of exercising. Although I don't remember this, my husband tells me that he had asked me to run with him multiple times over the years, but it wasn't until my gym friends asked that I went for it.
And, for a non-runner, the Couch to 5K program is hard. Sure, you go along for a while and it seems easy. Then they step it up and you think you're not going to make it to see the next week. (If I remember correctly, week 4 is evil!)
Then, something weird happened. I remember the moment distinctly. My family and I were on vacation and I was scheduled to run for 15 minutes straight. It was a picture perfect day and I didn't feel like stopping. What? I wanted to continue running. So, I ran for 20 minutes straight. And, I felt like I'd never felt before.
Now, I didn't have a Garmin (top of the line GPS watch) at that point, nor did I use Run Keeper, Map My Run or--what later became one of my favorite programs--geodistance.com. So, I have no idea how fast (or, really, in my case--how slow) I was running. I just knew I felt awesome after I finished.
As I continued to run, I also reverted to my research geek self and started looking up running techniques, etc. And, it was through this that I got my first running identity--that of a penguin.
Yes, a penguin.
And, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from John Bingham, who chronicled his slow running adventures in his book, "The Courage to Start" He coined the term "penguin runner" due to his waddling running style. In fact, he signs off on his blog with "Waddle on, friends!"
About a year or so after I became familiar with Bingham, my friend Eileen gave me one of the best running presents I've ever gotten--a signed copy of a subsequent Bingham book, "The Accidental Athlete," she purchased from Bingham at a a running expo.
Here was an athlete I could identify with. Although I was probably in a little bit better shape than Bingham was when he started (according to his blog "an overweight couch potato with a glut of bad habits, including smoking and drinking"), I could identify with this man who didn't start running until he was in his 40's and had the ability to not take his athletic forays too seriously.
I was so excited to have a group to identify with. I was a penguin!
While writing this blog, I wanted to find out whether penguin runners had anything in common with their arctic animal friends. Believe it or not, the first article I found indicated that the term penguin is thought to come from "the Latin term pinguis, which means fat."
So, maybe researching these questions that come to mind isn't my best bet. Truly--don't get me started on the whole Athena thing again. I still consider myself a penguin and I still maintain that we back of the packers are having a lot more fun than the gazelles and cheetahs at the front of the pack!
OMM embodies Bingham's tongue in cheek style (although they have things for all runner types.)
I also have their "This Seemed Like A Good Idea Three Months Ago" and "In My Dreams I am a Kenyan" headbands and shirts with the slogans, "Finishing = Winning" and "You Can Thank Me Now For Making You Look Faster" tshirts. (In fact, the latter slogan was one I created and won an OMM slogan contest with.) My latest purchase is a tech shirt that says, "Race day strategy: Start off slow then back off."
They even have products that focus on the slogan Bingham is probably the most famous for: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
Yes, I have found kindred spirits in the running world. And, I will continue to "Waddle on!" with the other back of the packers.
However, not everyone celebrates those of us who run slowly, like Bingham and OMM. Stay tuned for Part II of "Penguin Pride" in which I engage in the debate over whether or not slower runners should be allowed to "race" at all.
In the meantime, One More Mile has graciously agreed to a giveaway contest for anyone who likes my "View from the Back of the Pack" Facebook page. Click here and then "like" the page. A winner--randomly chosen from all who like the Facebook page--will win one penguin-inspired product of their choice. That includes anything on this link!
(NOTE: CONTEST HAS NOW ENDED, BUT YOU CAN STILL LIKE THE PAGE!)
Catch you again at the back of the pack!