Boilermaker: a Beginner's Journey

By Rebecca Vandawalker

For a few years, my friend Sharan from college had been trying to get me into running.  She had started a marathon training program herself as an absolute beginner and she had fallen in love with running.  I laughed off her suggestions.  First of all, Sharan is tiny and I am not.  In college she was the girl on the crew boat with the bull horn shouting at the team rowing.  She is also adventurous and I wasn’t.  She is from Malaysia but ended up at the University of Rochester just like me.  I had never run before nor did I have the desire to try.  Nonetheless, she brought up trying it every time we talked.  When I went to visit her one time, she took me on a run.  She had this little timer that beeped every so often and she would tell me when we had to run and when we could walk.  I was proud of myself that I even kept up for 45 minutes.  I was out of shape (not that I had ever really been in great shape) and not exactly thin (not that I have ever really been thin either).  Sharan was quick to point out to me that my steps were too big and that I tried to go too fast.  Well, like everything in life that I don’t want to do, I tend to just try to get it over with.  Then she took me to this palm reader who told me that in the next few years I would change my life and get really into physical fitness.  I laughed.

Needless to say, I didn't run again for a while once I left her house.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a stubborn side and that I don’t like to listen to others advice for my own life.

Fast forward a few years:  My girlfriends and I are having our annual holiday get together and trying to figure out when we will be able to see each other again.  Someone makes the suggestion that we all sign up and run The Boilermaker 5 K.   We all agreed.  Maybe it was the wine but we did.  We all had plans to train.  I did not do too well with this.  I walked the Rail Trail a few times a week.  I figured that at least I could walk 3.1 miles in 45 minutes if I hustled.  Some of my girlfriends did some training.  My friend Cori seemed to really take to running.  She had done cross country when we were in high school.  She started signing up for 5k’s left and right.

Becky before her first Boilermaker 5k
By the time came for The Boilermaker 5k, I was scared to death.  I even have the before pictures to prove it.  I got up really early in the morning, puked because that is always what happens when I am nervous, and debated whether or not I should eat or drink coffee or water.  I was afraid my nervous bladder would mean I would spend most of my time in the port a potty.  At least I was not alone in this.

All of us were texting each other about what we should wear and if we were eating or drinking.  None of  us really knew what we were doing.  We all started out together when that gun went off.  We ran with the sea of other runners.  Some people really looked like they knew what they were doing while others looked just as lost as I felt.  I made a promise to my friends that I would do this so I started running.   I was out of breath in the first 2 minutes and walked and ran the whole way.  I felt like I was dying.  One of my girlfriends started hyperventilating and didn't finish the race.  I was way behind three friends and two were behind me.  I was on my own.  A funny thing happened though about a mile in.  A woman I didn't know started running and walking with me and encouraging me.  She pushed me when I wanted to quit.  I cannot remember her name but I will always remember what she did for me that day.  She got me over that finish line.  She kept yelling, “We got this Becky!”  I started to believe it.  My time was 44 minutes and something.  I finished under 45 minutes.  I got a finisher’s pin.  I promised myself that day that I would do this the next year and actually train for it.

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Fast forward to December that same year.  I started doing some exercises at home to make me stronger.  After I did these a few times a week for a month or so, I decided to try running.  I got a book about the Run-Walk Method by Jeff Galloway.  Jeff Galloway was the one who actually trained Sharan for her first Marathon from scratch.  I started going to the rail trail a few times a week.  I would run for a count of 30 in my head and then walk for a count of 30 and just kept doing that for a few miles.  After a few times out, I would run for a count of 60 and then walk for a count of 30.  I did this for quite some time and each time, I would try  to run longer and longer.  I seemed to have trouble breathing.  I called Sharan up and she said to slow down and make sure I could talk while I run.  If I couldn’t talk, I was going too fast.  I told her that I run alone and am not talking to anyone.  I simply count in my head the whole time.  She said I needed to find a group.

Mission: Accomplished.  First 5k done!
I set out to find a group.  Luckily for me, I have a local friend who runs and he invited me to a Beginner’s Group Run at Confluence Running in February through Facebook.  I was very nervous to go since I didn’t know anyone there.  I showed up with Jeans on over my running tights and a regular hat.  I had on the only running sneakers that I owned.  Well when I got to the store, I realized I looked ridiculous in my jeans and ran out to my car and took them off.  I came back in and stood against a wall.  A few of the guys there came up and said hello but I am sure that I did not look at all approachable.  I can be very closed off in new situations.  I like to watch and figure people out first.  Then the group went out for a two mile run.  It was a mile out and a mile back.  I had never run even a quarter mile without stopping to walk yet.   I started out with someone that just walked and I began to run.  After a little while, she went back to the store and I kept going.  I walked and ran the whole mile up and almost the whole way back.  I was alone until I noticed someone from the group ran back to finish with me.  Helen introduced herself and said she was getting back into running after a break.  We talked a bit and then became Facebook friends.  Because of the time she took to reach out to me, I came back.  I learned to run with others.  This helped me with my breathing and my pace.  Once I got my breathing under control and pushed past those feelings that I couldn’t catch my breath, I just breathed through it and begin to run without walking.  First I ran a whole quarter mile, then three quarters of a mile, and when I finally ran a whole mile without stopping, I was so proud of myself.  By the time I went to my next Beginner Group Run, I could run the whole two miles without walking.  I became more open to the other runners.  I even recall when someone asked me if I was training for a race, I said I was training for the Boilermaker 5K but really I was going to be running from now on.
Becky after her second Boilermaker 5k!

I made it to the Boilermaker 5K last July.  None of my friends did the 5K with me this year.  Cori did the 15k and so did my brother and sister-in-law.  I was on my own but I did not stop the whole time and my time was over 12 minutes faster than the first year.  I really felt like I earned that beer at the finish.  I have worked on distance since then and still attend the Beginner Group Runs so that I can get to know new runners and do for them what Helen did for me.  Next Sunday, I will run and hopefully finish my first Half Marathon which I will run with Cori.  When my runs get tough, I automatically start going back to counting in my head.  I just think that since that is how I started, it just keeps me going.  Well that and the fact that I really do like to run now.