I have a confession to make.

I don’t actually like to run.

Oh sure, there are days when the runner’s high catches me and I feel like I could go for days, bopping out to pop music I would never admit to enjoying and freaking people on the streetcars out (“why is that girl grinning like a crazy person?”), but those days are rarities. More often, I have to drag myself over to my shoes, my inner toddler throwing fits while the rational adult informs her that no, not being able to find the pink socks is not an excuse to skip the run today.  (She has a point.  I mean c’mon, can you really expect me to run WITHOUT THE PINK SOCKS?  The horror.)  I dread leaving the house.  I mentally calculate how much longer I have, eagerly anticipating walk breaks and water stops.  The first block or so, I always consider turning around and just going home.  Do this run tomorrow, I rationalize, when you’re not so tired.  Except tomorrow, I’m still tired, and now I feel guilty as well.

No, for the most part, I don’t really like the act of running.  Especially the first quarter of any run, that’s the worst part.  The entirety of the thing looming out there in front of me, long and dark and arduous.  It’s much better once I’ve come to the halfway point, or when the chipper voice of my Nike+ starts counting down the last 400 meters.  With the end in sight, I have renewed energy and motivation to get to my goal.

In case there was any doubt, the goal in this case is to get out of these sweaty clothes and into a nice clean shower.

I am sure after the preceding paragraphs, one might seriously question why on earth I would ever willingly choose to inflict this kind of suffering on myself.  The answer is, I like goals. Not the shower at the end of the run goals, the big goals, the kinds of goals that make you feel like the queen of the universe when you accomplish them.  In other words, I am the kind of person that would climb a mountain just because there was one there that needed climbing.  For better or for worse, I like a good challenge.

I started running because I wanted to do a triathlon, and in order to finish one, I would have to run.  So, I got some shoes and started running.  I did one little sprint triathlon, and then later I went on to an Olympic distance.  Eventually, I did a half-marathon, too.  All of these events were spread out over the course of years, and I noticed a funny thing.  If I was actively training for a specific race, I would run (or bike, or swim).  Not only that, but I loved my schedule.  I love watching my mileage increase and my times get faster.  I enjoy the process of training — making a plan, following the plan, and reaping the benefits in the form of a medal and the rush at the end of the race.  It feels really good to cross that finish line and know that I’ve done something that I never would have thought I could do.

Of course, the converse of this is that when I don’t have a race in mind, I don’t run.  Are you crazy?  Why would I put myself through all that for nothing?

At the moment, I am training for the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon, which will be run on 28 February 2010.  I’ve had a few lapses in training, mostly related to the wedding and being in Chicago where it was too cold to even think about going outside — seriously, I think I got frostbite from considering the idea — but I’m back on track now, and looking forward to that race.  My husband hasn’t seen me run any races, as my last one was before we started dating, and I’m especially excited that this time he’ll be at the finish line waiting for me.  I can just imagine coming across that gateway, and getting my medal, and giving him a big, sweaty kiss while he tells me how proud he is of me — yeah, that’s a pretty great feeling right there.

I don’t actually like to run, but I do actually like the way it feels to finish a run, any run.  Finishing races is amazing, but even at the end of a short 30-minute easy run I get a great sense of accomplishment.  I did it.  I beat it.  I win at today.  Go me.

Some days, finishing a 30-minute easy run is the only thing I feel that way about.  On those days, I still don’t like running, but the runs are what keep me sane.

Someday, I want to do a full marathon.  Someday I also want to do a full Ironman triathlon, but I think that someday is farther off.  Someday, maybe the days that I enjoy my run, the actual running part, will outnumber the days that I don’t.  Someday, maybe I will be one of the runners I admire at the gym, all muscle-y and fit looking.  Okay, maybe not that last one.  But the other three, those are still on the table.

In the meantime, I’ll be slogging along the neutral ground, getting extra protein in my teeth from the swarms of gnats that seem to have decided that January is a great time of year to go sightseeing, mentally dragging my inner three-year-old as she has the mother of all tantrums about having been forced out of the house in BLUE SOCKS for pity’s sake, and trying to keep in mind why I’m doing this.  Keeping my eyes on the prize.