February 8, 2012


When I was in high school and college, I wanted so badly to be a runner. I wanted to have the stamina and strength that could carry me for miles. I wanted the sense of accomplishment and self worth that (I assumed) came with knowing I could run distances that would leave others wheezing and sore. I wanted the mental and emotional release of being outside, feeling the progress beneath my feet, putting distance between myself and my problems. I wanted (although it pains me to admit it) to be able to say to people, "Oh, sure, I got up super early and ran a gazillion miles this morning before your head even left the pillow."
Well, easier said than done. Every time I would actually try this running thing, I'd peter out faster than you can say "wannabe." Most days, I'd head home after only 30 minutes, a sweaty, exhausted mess. Sometimes, I would stick it out for a few days, focusing determinedly on that picture in my head of a tanned, toned runner gliding along some scenic route. Within the week, though, I was always done. Back to the elliptical at the gym, a few crunches here and there in a fit of ab envy, and avoidance of the fact that I doubted I'd be fit enough to be considered "in shape" ever again. Running just wasn't fun... in fact, it was so very not fun that even such lofty aspirations weren't enough to keep me going. I certainly wasn't a natural, and I couldn't imagine that it would ever get easier, so I did something that I rarely do with anything else in my life: I gave up. Again... and again... and again.
Until one day last winter, with no warning, it stuck. Something deep inside me clicked and there was no looking back. Running still wasn't fun -- it took at least six months before I would be able to even think about describing it with such a positive word -- but finally, I got it: the longer I stuck with it, the easier it could be. Each run would feel a little bit better than the last, until my muscles and lungs and head got with the program. Eventually, I realized, running could come naturally... or at least a little less unnaturally.
With this realization, something else subconsciously slid into gear and, at long last, locked. It was a mechanism that has driven me all of my life in so many situations, but one that had never quite fit with running until then: for lack of a better term, it was my overwhelming amount of sheer stubbornness. It was my just one more, my I am NOT going to let this get the better of me, my dogged, tenacious, bordering on self-destructive will to hang on tight and under no circumstances give in. It had served me well in swimming, academics, leadership positions, and personal relationships, but for some reason it had never quite engaged with running... until about the third run last winter. And let me tell you: when it finally kicked in, it kicked in hard and strong.
All of a sudden, I was running every day, determined to get out there and get it over with so that tomorrow, it would be that much easier. If I made it through three miles one morning, the next I would make myself do 3.25. If I could do it at a 10:30 pace one week, the next I'd be pushing myself to hit 10:00 (I started off slooooow). If I went to the gym thinking I'd run for 30 minutes, I would usually end up going for 40. Every day, I was determined to outpace, outdistance, outrun myself.
So before I knew it, I was the one running 5 miles every morning. Some days were tough, but generally it was easier than I had ever dreamed it would become. Double digit runs were no longer unfathomable: sure, they were brutal, but I knew I could finish. Races became realistic goals for which to train. $100 was finally a practical, necessary price for running shoes, and I didn't feel guilty because I knew that I was running them for all they were worth (and in many cases much, much more). I never used it as a bragging right, as I had always dreamed of doing, but instead found an inner comfort each day in knowing that it had either begun with a solid run or would end with one.
Eventually, gradually, it started to dawn on me: this was something I could do. I could run long, I could run fast. I could talk myself through 13.1 miles. I was the runner I had always wanted to be.
... And then I got shin splints. Which are, for the record, just terrible. I am dying to run again, but every time I do the pain serves as an irrefutable reminder of why I need to rest, stretch, and give my leg a little time to heal itself. I've pushed myself back into it too quickly, and every time it gets worse. Luckily, my new-found determination has served me well in the interim: 30 minutes on the elliptical has become 45, 50 crunches has become 100, and a minute and a half plank has now reached three.
There are times I question my sanity when I am struggling through that last mile, last minute, last repeat. Am I crazy to push myself this hard? Should I give myself a break? Should I be ok, just this once, if I don't break yesterday's record? I know the answer, though -- it's the same as it has always been, and will always be: I could never live with myself if I stopped pushing my boundaries. Even as I curse myself for this stubborn drive to be better, I love testing myself and finding that 9 times out of 10, I can do more than I expect. The whole experience has opened my eyes to the fact that I am stronger than I ever believed. And a whole lot more stubborn, but I choose to believe that's a good thing... just don't ask my husband.



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