I am not a natural athlete, not by any stretch. In high school it was math and science that seemed effortless, so I took the easy route: academics. I remember dreading P.E. class, but especially any time we had to run. I was always dead last.
Over the years of college, medical school, and residency I wore my unathelticness as a slightly deranged badge of honor. I cultivated a tough girl image and just didn’t see exercise as part of that persona. I took a twisted pride in rolling my eyes at the mere mention of physical activity and delighted in retorts like, “I’ll be at the bar,” or “Dear God, I’d rather read Vonnegut.” Now I see my supposed worldly and witty put downs of exercise for what they really were: a defense mechanism against stepping out of my comfort zone and risking failure.
I began running in my early 30’s when I realized my body was starting to show some subtle effects of aging with a few pounds here and there in the wrong places (meaning not my breasts). I never really got beyond an 11 minute mile or the I hate this attitude. It didn’t help that my ex husband, a natural athlete, made jokes about my efforts referring to my running as lumbering. And so I resorted to another tried and true defense mechanism: making fun of myself first before anyone else could. I now understand that negative thoughts are a guaranteed self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I became pregnant with triplets I am sure the second thing I said (right after, “What the fuck?) was, “Oh darn, I guess I’ll have to stop running now.” And I did. For almost seven years. The catastrophic outcome of my pregnancy and critical health needs of my two surviving boys drove any thoughts of self care from my mind. My coping mechanism became food, and so I found myself 55 lbs over weight.
I started running again over two years ago. It was my son Victor who prompted me to get over myself. Victor, born with cerebral palsy and a twisted right side. Victor who never shied away from the intense physical therapy I pummeled him with the second he came home from the NICU. Victor to whom I said, “I don’t care how hard you think it is, you have to believe you can do it and try. And when you fall you get up and try again. And again.” And he did.
And that’s when I realized that I had never really tried before. I refused to step out of my comfort zone and continually pulled up short when anything was physically challenging, yet here I was trying to teach my kids that pushing yourself was the only option. I don’t care what we tell our kids, it’s what they see that really sinks in. And anyway, how dare I complain about any task being too physically challenging, me with the luxury of muscles that work and lungs that went to full term?
So I got over myself. I ditched the watch and just focused on the first step: making getting out the door three times a week a habit (because getting yourself out the door when you don’t want to go is the first, and most important, step).
I started reading articles and blogs on running. I kept reading about the value of strong arms and a strong core, so I added in boot camp to get stronger muscles. I figured people who ran 6 minute miles might actually know what they were talking about.
I also learned to push myself. If I wasn’t soaked in sweat or could carry on a conversation, I wasn’t working hard enough. And trust me, it required training and constant vigilance to learn not pull up short at 70% effort.
It took two years to go from a 12 minute mile to a 9:30 pace. Some days I feel like Atalanta and other days when I start to think of myself more as a pack mule I make a conscious effort to replace the negative with a positive. Because it’s true, and I don’t care how corny it sounds, having a positive attitude helps.
I gave up on running for vanity and now view every run as an opportunity to push myself. Sometimes that means running 5k in under 29 minutes and other times pushing myself is getting out the door after a long day at work when I’m desperate for a glass of Merlot and the couch.
Most of all, running has helped me walk the walk with my kids. To show them that the win in life is not found in kicking the most goals, wearing the skinniest jeans, or getting straight A’s, the real win is in the try.
Happy runner’s day!