I'm writing this on Wednesday night -- sitting on my patio in the crisp Minnesota fall air, enjoying a glass of pinot. Tomorrow is my 31st birthday -- or, "do-over 30th" as I've called it, given the hell that was my last year. I'm contemplating a lot of things right now, but at the forefront on my mind is this week's Take It And Run Thursday theme -- what are the lessons you've learned from running?
I wrote a column about this last year -- my FINAL column, fresh off of mile 26.2. It was a perfect wrap up to my series, as it basically summarized everything I had been ruminating on the pavement during not only the course of my 20 week training program, but the entire year before. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I've decided to simply reprint it.
WIthout further ado, I present...
The Miracle Isn't That I Finished (with respect to John Bingham).
I started writing this column the day before the marathon, because I didn’t want my message to be colored by the outcome of the race. That was smart, given that I woke up at 5:30 AM on Sunday to 72 degree heat and 84% humidity… which only got hotter and wetter as the day went on. Under conditions like these, training goes out the window, and you just have to make the best of what you’ve been given. I’m sure most of you heard of the mess that was the Chicago Marathon – but what you didn’t hear was that had it been 1 degree warmer at the start of the Twin Cities Marathon, officials would have cancelled the entire event.
Through blisters, humidity-induced asthma, scorching sun, humidity, and getting passed up by the sweep vehicle, I prevailed. I can now say that I FINISHED the Twin Cities Marathon.
Over the past 20 weeks I’ve come to see running as a metaphor for life. I want to share with you some of the most important things I’ve learned.
You cannot ACTUALLY run away.
In one of my earliest columns, I said “this journey is as much about running away from the person I used to be as it is about running towards the person I’ve become.” I want to rescind that statement. You can’t run from your past. More importantly, you shouldn’t want to. After all, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and we all learn from our mistakes. Similarly, you cannot run away from your present. There were times throughout this summer where it became crystal clear to me that I was using running as a coping mechanism – albeit healthier than smoking, drinking, over-eating, or shopping, but a mechanism nonetheless. No matter how far or fast you run, you’ll never outrun what is bothering you – you’re better off learning to run TOWARDS those problems with all of your might, building the strength, perspective, and confidence necessary to conquer the beast.
It’s okay to put yourself first.
I’m what appears to be the most social person you’ll ever meet. A natural hostess; a social butterfly. But nothing makes me happier than the solidarity and independence of a long run alone. I thought about finding a running group, but in the end, I actually don’t enjoy running with other people. I look at running as the only time in my over-programmed and overly-concerned-with-others life when I get to focus on nothing but myself. I don’t want to wait, and I don’t want to rush. I just want to run on my own terms. It’s very selfish, and I’m 100% okay with that. I’ve often quipped that when I’m running is when I solve my problems, and it is hard to do that when you are making conversation or gasping for breath to keep up with somebody else. To everybody I ran with this summer – and everybody that offered – I love you, I thank you, but I don’t wanna run with you (and if I change my mind, I promise I’ll ask).
Step out of your comfort zone.
Two years ago, when I watched the marathon for the first time, I cried because it looked so amazing. I wanted to do it, but I was afraid to even WANT… I was afraid that I wasn’t capable, I was afraid that I’d try and then fail, and just look pathetic. Deciding to step outside my comfort zone and do the unthinkable has brought me so many more rewards than just fitness and weight loss – if I hadn’t taken that risk, I wouldn’t be here, writing to all of you -- a dream come true. I wouldn’t be evaluating my life’s success by different standards: happiness, health, authenticity, and fulfillment. A woman ran by me wearing a shirt that said “The miracle isn’t that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a John Bingham quote, and it became my mantra.
Goals are grounding
I’m not sure that in my 30 years, I’ve ever really had tangible goals. Sure, I wanted to get into a good college and get a good job – those were givens. But never in my life have I TRAINED for something. I’ve never had something tying me to a schedule, a routine, and a way of life. Training for a marathon is definitely an exercise, no pun intended, both in restraint and exertion. It is just as hard to keep yourself from overtraining on a good week as it is to push yourself extra hard during the times when running feels, quite frankly, like hell. This rigorous and disciplined training provided a refreshing structure to my life – in a way, it was nice to not wonder or worry about Friday night plans or how to spend my Saturday mornings.
Overcoming inertia is the hardest part.
When I first walked through the door of Weight Watchers, “for real this time,” it was October 24th, 2003. I had just returned from a business trip to New York City, where I smoked what I vowed was my last cigarette.
I stepped on the scale.
I weighed 250 pounds.
Then, I put on my big girl panties and got to work.
I never walked through those doors aiming, or even CONSIDERING that I would have the life I’ve earned today. The goal was never to lose 100 pounds and run a marathon.
The goal was just to do… something. The use of the word “earned” above is intentional. I was not just given this life, this body, or this state of self-awareness. I had to work for it, search for it, claw my way to the holy grail of health and happiness. I was given all the tools and raw materials – a wonderful family, parents who raised me well and loved me and supported me, general health, education, a brain, a strong circle of friends, and a good attitude.
Life was definitely a lot easier at 250 lbs. But it wasn’t better, because the unfortunate irony of life is that things easily acquired are very rarely worth having. The difficult things in life – the ones that take blood, sweat, and tears -- are the ones we value. That first step was the hardest. Overcoming inertia -- like the first cycles of peddling a bicycle -- is the hardest. After that, the momentum of the initial struggle launches you into space, raises your trajectory and allows you to soar, in some cases higher and steeper and faster than you ever dreamed possible.
That’s why the quote above became my mantra -- because the miracle here is not that I’ve finished – I always finish what I start – it’s that I ever began. That I trusted myself enough to walk through the doors, sit down, and admit that I needed help. That I signed up for that first 5K, then that first 10K, my first half-marathon, and ultimately, the full 26.2 miles.
It comes back to the very first quote I ever wrote about – “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Even if you don’t know where you’re headed, I encourage you to start that journey today. Your destination most likely will surprise and empower you.
In the meantime, just enjoy the run.
Off and enjoying... this wonderful, amazing, blessed life that I'm not even sure how I have,