In junior high, I ran a thirteen minute mile. Not because I walked it and not because I twisted my ankle at lap three--although both of those things happened, but because being told to run in a circle so some national whatever could keep tabs on my fitness level pissed me off. At least that’s what I told my gym teacher. Accustomed to my insubordination, he responded with his usual expression of befuddled anger, eyebrows lifting as if to flee from his bulbous nose.
What I didn’t tell him was that running outside intimidated me.
Even after I began taking endless angsty teenage walks and pedaling to nowhere on my parent’s old exercise bike, even after I moved on to slow jogs on the treadmill I dragged to college with me, and years later spinning classes at Gold’s Gym in LA and finally a yoga practice facilitated by Chicago studios like Bloom, I was still afraid to run outside where people could see. As a spinning instructor, I sweat and screech daily in front of hordes of gym-goers, so self-consciousness couldn’t have been entirely to blame. Yet I kept grinding away on the treadmill despite longer runs and faster miles.
A girl never forgets her first gym.
Maybe my reluctance to run outdoors owes something to the more general anxiety I harbor: I’m afraid of getting lost. I’m afraid to be alone. I’m definitely afraid of squirrels. The Immense Outside brims with walkers and mockers and kamikaze drivers, with wind and sun, and sometimes even waves strong enough to knock a runner over. I was afraid of all of those things, and yet, once I finally made the decision to run outside, those are the things I embrace. They make each run different. They make me feel like I’m on an adventure. And running despite my fears makes me feel liberated, returned to myself, a new version of something very familiar. I never made a clearcut choice to become a runner; rather, years of incremental shifts became a sudden solid choice. Sometimes that’s how change works: one day, you simply try something new.
Chicago is a great place to have made that decision. And I’m not the only runner who knows it. This is the first in a new Our Town series highlighting one Chicago Runner a month. We’ll be asking runners of all levels for tips on music, routes, gadgets and more. You’ll hear firsthand what makes a runner, and maybe discover your own impulse to run (away from squirrels.)
October's Runner: Kathie Bergquist
Why do you run? Running makes me feel free and strong. It gets me away from my computer and calms my mind.
How long have you been running? Five years. I got a late start (I'm 43). My first 5K race was the Proud to Run race in 2007. I still have the bib (I have all of my running bibs).
What makes someone a runner? Running.
Miles per week: Varies wildly, from zero to 40, depending on what's motivating me.
Mile time: Just under 9 minutes.
Races you’ve competed in (if any): Prague International Marathon, Chi-town Half Marathon, too many 5K's to list.
Favorite running route(s): I have a Ravenswood park circuit that I enjoy which includes a run around Horner Park, down Montrose to Wells Park, up to River Park, and then along the River path to Peterson (and then back). What's nice about this route is that it is not as congested as the lakefront but there are still a lot of bike/running trails to get you off the streets and curbs, plus it is easy to lengthen or shorten, depending on how much time you have and how far you want to run. Also, the park facilities provide some well-spaced public bathrooms and drinking fountains.
Best run: A 14-mile run this past February, when I was training for the Prague International Marathon. The day was cold and sleety and I'd only run about a mile before my shoes were soaked with slush. I'd recently moved from the Dreadmill to outdoor running and this was to be my longest run to date -- I ran from my home in Albany Park to the lakefront, and then down to Fullerton and back. I'd stayed up a little too late the night before entertaining an out-of-town friend, and wasn't in great shape to run but I did it anyway, despite these obstacles. The reason this was so great was because I knew that if I could pull this run off, I was crossing a line of running fierceness, and that I had what it would take to finish a marathon. And I did it! In my mind, this run reshaped my image of my running self.
Worst run: This past spring: 18 miles on the lakefront path. It was a blustery day, and my ankle was inflamed with tendonitis. To make matters worse, once we (I was running with my partner, Nikki) got to our turn-around point, which was the museum campus, it started to rain. Huge waves crashed against the breakwater and the wind from Navy Pier to Fullerton was brutal. We had absolutely no choice but to keep running -- our car, with our keys, money, phones, etc, was parked roughly nine miles north of where we were. We slogged through, but I am not going to lie -- it sucked.
Do you run with music? No, I like to stay aware of my environment.
Favorite Running Gadget: I'm a pretty low-tech, no gadget runner. Part of why I love running is the freedom to just lace up and take off
The Treadmill: Discuss: I think running on the treadmill takes all the joy and freedom away from running and I encourage all runners to get outside and feel the difference for themselves. That said, it can be convenient for training or fitness runs if you just want to knock off a quick few miles.
Favorite time to run: Whenever I can find the time to run.
Best pre-run meal: I keep it light light before running and usually stick with whole grain toast and a banana, or a Clif Bar (peanut butter is my fave).
Tips on running through a Chicago winter: Dress in layers, wear a hat and gloves and long wool socks, and plan your route ahead of time because many public bathrooms (especially along the lakefront) are only open seasonally, and drinking fountains are not operating.
Favorite temperature range: 55-70 f.
What running gear do you love? I am not much of a gear snob. The one thing I picked up earlier this year is a water bottle that attached to you hand and fits the shape of your palm, with a pocket for ID, money and keys. This is a big asset for long runs when I want to remain relatively unencumbered.
Tips for a novice runner: Everyone starts somewhere. Celebrate each milestone. Find a running buddy or two and plan running dates together. Sign up for a 5K race as a goal and reason to run. Keep running.
Biggest accomplishment: Finishing the 2012 Prague International Marathon.
Brief Bio: Kathie Bergquist teaches writing at Columbia College Chicago and is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the forthcoming Ms. Fit health and fitness magazine.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez and Facebook.