My aunt called me yesterday to say that this blog has inspired her. As she was telling me about her new gym membership and asking for advice on which women’s health magazine she should subscribe to, we began to talk about what had initially inspired me.
Runner’s often say that they were “bitten by the racing bug”. This may be true, as we all know races to be an addictive adrenaline rush, but the more important thing to identify here is why.
I used to live off a diet of ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese (the whole Blue Box in a single sitting, please), McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers, and cereal. Lots of cereal. Vegetables were not something my refrigerator ever made the acquaintance of, and my crisper drawer may have only met an apple or two. When my husband and I first met, we would order pizza two and three times a week. He misses those days terribly (but never misses a chance to let me know it), as our “pizza” dinners now consist of veggies piled high on a crispy tortilla crust. Just as delicious in my opinion… but why?
Exercising for me used to mean a flurried week or two of intermittent activity at the gym. The scale never reflected my efforts and the motivation would disappear as quickly as it had come. But something changed when I began running. What was it?
I told the true reason for my lifestyle change out loud to my aunt yesterday before I even realized what it was myself. I told her, “I do it because it’s hard. It’s hard, and I’ve never done anything hard before.” All of my life, I stuck to the things that came easily to me: academia, writing, organization, leadership. I steadfastly avoided activities that were a mental or physical challenge: athletics, cooking, Trivial Pursuit, bowling. Why engage in activities that I could potentially fail at? And for everyone to see? Why would I set myself up for disappointment and embarrassment when I could simply stick to what I was good at and succeed with minimal effort?
The answer is pride.
We all need a reason to feel good about ourselves. Maybe I was good at bargaining or at reading maps, but how good could I feel about myself if it came instinctively and didn’t require any effort? One thing I excelled at was maintaining a schedule. Once a training plan was thumbtacked to my bedroom wall, the Type A personality kicked in. In my mind, a plan was meant to be completed and that’s what I would do. The Couch to 5k Plan that I used to train for my first race was an 8 week program. And it was HARD. I will never forget my husband standing next to the treadmill literally screaming at me in the last three minutes of a 20 minute run that I could DO THIS. He would not let me give up, and more importantly, I was not about to fail so publicly.
And I did it. I finished the program. I finished the race. And I immediately signed up for another four times as long. Up on the wall went a second training program – this one was 12 weeks long. I repeated that program two more times before finding my current 19 week marathon training program. It’s now posted on my wall (and in my office, and in my gym bag).
I was never athletic. Looking back, I think this stemmed more from my lack of competitiveness than any physical limitations. I had no interest in sports when I was a kid, not because I was uncoordinated (though this is undeniably true) but because I had no desire to win. Card games, board games, baseball games … they bore me. Regardless of the reason, when a child grows up without a background in sports it can make physical activity a four letter word. Running to me was inconceivable. I was shocked when I managed to maintain it for 20 minutes on the treadmill that day and three years later, now training for a marathon, I’m still shocked I can make it around the block.
Succeeding at something so drastically outside of my comfort zone, completely changed my life. For the first time in 25 years I had done something that I could truly feel good about. I was proud of myself. Proud of myself for taking it on. Proud of myself for succeeding. Proud of myself for continuing and actually making it count for something. After every run, I come in the door positively beaming to report my triumphs (and failures) to Kirk. The changes in me are obvious and all-encompassing. Feeling good about yourself for one thing can, if you let it, extend to so many other areas of your life.
Now, if only I could overcome my anxiety of bowling and Trivial Pursuit.