Allow me to introduce you to Johnny Dead. Johnny is one of a handful of coaches in the Couch to 5K app—coaches who include perky Claudia, less-perky Billie, your average sadistic drill sergeant, and an unnervingly upbeat unicorn—and I found him to be by far the most useful of the bunch. Not because I fear zombies, but because Johnny gave me a target for my greatest strength: derisive mockery. I’d be in the park after work, panting through the run portion of the app’s run/walk plan, and right around the time I was itching for a water break or getting distracted wondering if I should take the path toward the boathouse or the one that encircles the baseball fields, Johnny would say, “I can taste the sweat…from your braaaaaaaaaain.” While I was snickering, I’d complete the run portion without even noticing, foregoing the water and staying focused. I was at peace in my snide amusement, Zen-like in my footfalls. Other people experience a runner’s high; with Johnny, I cultivated a runner’s sneer.
I know the tenacity that’s actually making it happen is all mine. It comes from a wellspring of resolve—a determination that lives deep in my own delicious braaaaaaaaaain.
Soon, I was up to 22 minutes without stopping. Then 25. Then 28. All the while, Johnny was pushing me in his special way: “Run hard, be strong, think big, and carry a big pitchfork,” he growled. I remember hearing that somewhere near a crowd of fellow runners, and scoffing loudly enough (what does it even mean? Zombies don’t carry pitchforks…!) that they turned to stare. One day, as I passed the reservoir in Central Park during my 28-minute nonstop run (tiny little dance in celebration of me), Johnny revealed something personal: “Ever wonder how I became a zombie? By moving too slow.” I appreciated his candor, and sped up. Another time, I noticed a nasty wind was picking up, and almost without thinking, I pivoted my body toward my apartment. Then Johnny forgot he was a zombie, I guess, because he started rambling about how I have “major skillz,” forgetting to insert his customary joke about being, you know, dead. I was so befuddled by this departure that I just kept going. By the time I gave up trying to comprehend Johnny’s lapse, I was done with my run.
I have now managed to run 45 minutes without pausing. So I know I’ll pretty much crush my first goal. I’m still pushing to cover three miles in 40 minutes, and thanks to Johnny and Disney, I’m determined to do it. But I know the tenacity that’s actually making it happen is all mine. It comes from a wellspring of resolve—a determination that lives deep in my own delicious braaaaaaaaaain.
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Kathryn Arnold is a writer in New York City. She’s written for Time, New York, Slate, and Wired, and is the author of the novel Bright Before Us (2011). Join her—and Johnny Dead—on the Couch to 5K app to train for your own race.
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