“It’s true what they say about exercise: it improves your mood”: How one woman became a distance runner at age 41
Stefanie Purificati had never run a day in her life before she laced up her old sneakers and started a running program last summer. Here’s how it went.
—As told to Liza Agrba
“I’m a talent agent in the music industry, and I’m not exactly used to putting myself first. Honestly, I haven’t taken a sick day in about 12 years. Before the pandemic, I would walk to work—I’d put my headphones in and work things out in my head for an hour before I get to the office. Until that wasn’t a thing anymore, I didn’t realize how important it was.
“The Covid blues started to set in once the drive-in concert season finished toward the end of the summer. My whole industry is decimated, and it’s been tough on a lot of people I care about. I started feeling more anxious than usual. I was just sitting around going, when do I get to have a life again? When do I get to work again? And no one has the answer to that question. It’s really destabilizing.
“I’ve never been much for working out generally, but a friend of mine started posting on Facebook about how good she’s felt since she started running. I was inspired. I’d been looking for something to do, and then this person who I love and respect tried a new and scary thing that worked for her. In mid-August I said, “Screw it” and decided to give it a try.
“The idea of running on the street terrifies me—I’m stuck on the idea that I’ll look silly—so I decided to run on the elementary school track across the street from my house—I laced up my ratty old running shoes and started going at around 7 in the morning three times a week. I downloaded an app called Runkeeper, which is a six-week program: you start off running for 30 seconds and walk for a minute and a half, then gradually build up to a 25-minute run. There’s a pre-recorded coach named Erin—we have a love-hate relationship—who talks over your music and counts down into the intervals. She’s really peppy and upbeat: it’s like having a friend and coach in your ear, rather than a drill-sergeant. She also provides helpful tips while you’re running, like landing on the flat of your feet rather than the ball or heel, and keeping your arms at your sides, instead of swinging them in front of your body, and breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
“The first few weeks went pretty smoothly. I felt like it was too easy to be real: the intervals were manageable, and I didn’t hit any major snags. Then came the fourth week, when you’re supposed to run for 90 seconds, and I was like, Whoa, Erin, we need to talk. I couldn’t finish any workouts that week without stopping or taking breaks. At the end of the week, I felt defeated. I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I thought, Maybe if I can’t run for 90 seconds, I’m just not cut out for this.
“Then one of my friends said, “Just run slower.” I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before. So I ran slower and finished the whole week. I’m still working through the program, but I’ve run almost a hundred kilometres since the middle of August. At one point, Erin said, “We’re going to come up with your running mantra. A phrase to keep running through your head when it gets tough.” The example she used was, “I am strong, be strong. ”I changed that to, “I am a warrior, be a warrior.” I liked the imagery because in some ways, running feels like a battle.
“It’s so true what they say about exercise—that it improves your mood. Since I started running, I feel brighter and calmer. I’m getting longer, deeper sleep. I’m physically stronger—I don’t feel winded anymore when I run to catch a streetcar. I love living with my partner, but having half an hour to myself, running to my music, is great for our relationship.
“Four months ago, if you’d told me I’d be able to run 12 minutes nonstop, I would’ve laughed in your face. I’ve become a person who spends money on running stuff now. I Google things like “cold weather running gear,” and even recently replaced my old Pumas with a new pair from the Running Room. I’ve also bought warmer jogging pants, an armband for my phone, and a headband with a ponytail holder.
“This whole thing has partially been about finding a modicum of control in my life. Whenever we can start running marathons again, I’ll probably sign up for 5k, and come in last, and that’ll be fine. My short term goal is to get through this program. And maybe to find the courage to run on sidewalks.”