How a Swimmer Became a Runner—in Ali’s Words

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The following post was written by my best friend, Ali Isham. She wanted to write a guest post, and I told her she could write whatever she wanted. Below is what she sent me today:

Andrea and I have been friends forever, and since neither of us have any siblings she is basically my sister; growing up in each others homes, more often mine since we had a pool and my parents were more likely to turn on the AC in the muggy Wisconsin summers. While we were often inseparable we are both terribly different. Anyone reading this obviously knows Andrea is big into running along with other “land” sports such as dancing/poms. I am a swimmer. And I say it that way because it never really leaves you. I was naturally good with anything water based from wakeboarding to skiing and spent the majority of my time in the pool swimming year round. I was not as gifted at land sports. I took gymnastics three times and could not pass out of level 1 because of my inability to do a cartwheel. This is where Andrea and I met when she was in 1st grade and I was in 2nd.

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I was a pool fiend. I swam with a club team year round from about 5th grade on, swam varsity all four years of high school and swam a year and a half at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse before a torn labrum in my shoulder forced me to quit. Throughout my swimming career there was this other part to training; dryland. Dryland is exactly what it sounds like, exercises for swimmers on land. I actually currently work as a swim coach for both a club team and a high school team at Peninsula High School in Palos Verdes, California. And I put a ton of effort on dryland, making my swimmers do all the things I struggled with. I was a firm believer that you are either a water person or land person. We were big on weights, box jumps and running for our dryland. I was amazing at the weights, however always struggled with running. I dreaded mile day in high school during fitness testing. DREADED. I could swim miles in a pool at a fast pace but could not run an entire mile without stopping. It was just not my thing.

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After my injury I moved back to Milwaukee for my last two years of college. I actually put in a honest effort to become a “runner”, running around the block, willing my slow sad legs to just push to that next stop sign. I quit after a few weeks and found myself back in the pool and weight room. After undergrad I moved to LA to attend grad school at USC. Again I found myself at the beautiful USC track attempting to run. The next day I was in the pool swimming butterfly and loving every second. As grad school went on and finished and real life began I stop putting such an emphasis on exercise, making excuses of not having time and resigned myself to unhappiness in that part of my life. I talked about wanting to swim this Pier to Pier race each summer with my swimmer kids, never accomplishing it. And despite the best efforts of my amazing supportive boyfriend Kevin to get me into the gym, walking on the beach, anything, the battles eventually wound up not being worth it until July 2013.

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Lets go back a bit to 2004. I remember the day like it was yesterday, and it’s still painful. My mom called to tell me Andrea’s dad had just died after a run. I was in shock. I walked like a zombie over to her dorm attempting to figure out what to say to her. Turns out there is nothing to say in that moment. I am fortunate enough to still have both of my fantastic parents alive and cannot imagine how I would feel or react to hear the news if one them had died. I definitely cannot imagine how I would have reacted as an immature teenager.

Andrea handled her anger and pain in her own way. We grew apart, me moving to LA probably was a big part but I always felt like something had changed in her after that day. The spark that she had once had was gone, or at least diminished. I didn’t know what to say or do or how help her other that to be supportive in whatever it was she was doing. I had no way to relate.

Coming back to 2012/2013 I began to notice an increase of posts on Andrea’s Facebook page. Nights of crazy college drinking parties and booze were replaced with NikeRun info about mileage. Pictures started rolling in of finisher medals and her in adorable running attire with her hair fro’d out. It was awesome. Suddenly I wanted to be winning medals, posting cool things other than collecting another pint glass. But wait, I wasn’t a runner.

2012 I switched jobs and moved from one swim team to another right after my grandpa had passed away. I was in an environment where I wasn’t happy and made a difficult choice to move teams where I would have a lot more responsibility and be expected to up my knowledge. It was worth it to not go home miserable each day. That began my change.

July of 2013 a roommate wanted to check out a Crossfit place nearby. I was intrigued having seen some of the Crossfit Games on TV and said sure I’ll try it. The first intro session was brutal. After learning some basic movements I was dead on the floor after just a mere 8 minutes or so, but I was hooked. However, this newfound love came with a stipulation; I would have to embrace running. The enthusiastic and supportive coach Kris was amazing, however he would not back down on my learning to run. I would not have to like it, but he promised me I would be able to do it. I agreed to give it my best shot. From July until January I slowly worked on my running during warmups and WODs, still not liking it but able to go from 150m, to 200, to 400 and eventually 800. I remember thinking after completing my first 800 “holy crap, that’s half a mile”. And I know for most people running 800 meters is not a big deal, but for me it was the accomplishment of the year.

January was also when Andrea competed in her Disney World running expedition of whatever insane races they were. Her pictures were awesome. I remember calling her after she got back to ask how it went and she told me all these funny stories. I mentioned I remember seeing people at Disneyland with these cool Coast to Coast medals and asked her about them. She explained how you got them. I asked if she was ever going to run in a Disneyland race…

Two days later we are on the phone again. Turns out she can make the Dumbo Dare challenge happen this year in August, and I should run the 10k with her…I agree.

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A few weeks later we are signed up. And now I’m freaking out. I somehow have to manage 6.2 something miles, and I can’t slowly stroll the whole thing. And also in this madness I’ve agreed to a 5k Spartan race in Calgary in the middle of August while visiting Andrea. I don’t run!

One day at Crossfit I tell Kris what I just agreed to. As predicted he is beyond happy and supportive, and agrees to help me train because the idea of peeling myself off the couch and just randomly running 3 miles doesn’t seem plausible to me. He assures me it can be done, and I won’t have to run 3 miles… yet.

It starts slow, 200 sprints with lots of rest, 400 sprints with lots of rest, an 800 here, rowing and stairs every now and then and splits for everything. However a few weeks after I begin running, there is this day that says “1 Mile Time Trial”. It lurks ever closer. I decide to do as much training as possible at the track at the pool I work it. It’s a nice track with pretty views and I can usually run before or after practice. At the 1 mile for time day my one goal is just finish the mile without stopping. I do it, finishing 11:39, no stopping. A few weeks later there is 2 miles for time. I do that at Crossfit and stop a few times but I do it.
On Monday, Memorial Day I ran 3 miles, I walked maybe 200 yards of it. On Thursday I did another mile, fast, and dropped 40 seconds finishing at 11:00. I know 11 minute miles are not fast compared to the rest of the world but its fast for me, an out of shape swimmer, and I couldn’t be happier. I also shaved time off my 800 and 400.

This morning a crossfit friend Lauren ran a few 400s with me, pushing me, and when I thought my legs could not go any faster I got a PR by 9 seconds in my 400, going 2:10. I know I can manage the 5k Spartan race and am confident and I will be ready for our 10k. Andrea assures me there are lots of breaks to take pictures with characters, but I want to tackle that thing with the vengeance I used to have at swim meets.

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In just two short months running is still hard for me, but I actually look forward to it. The idea that I have to run a mile isn’t a dreaded task. And sometimes I would rather be running then doing some of the things we do in Crossfit. A huge thank you to Kevin, Kris, my swimmers/families who ask how the running is going, and my own family for the continued support. I can now call myself a swimmer, Crossfitter, and runner. My goal is to be able to hold 10 minute miles during our 10k that we are going to run together. Andrea runs because she has to to stay sane & because she loves it; I run because I need to, and now I want to.

And I will compete in that Pier to Pier swim race. Perhaps Andrea should do it with me.

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Calgary Spartan Sprint 2014 Recap-Not Just ANY Spartan Race for Me… | Je Me Souviens-To Infinity & Beyond!

  2. Pingback: A Short Introduction | College Swimmer to Coach Potato to Crossfit/Runner

  3. Pingback: Ali Isham is new swim program head coach – La Vista

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