When I first started running, 12 years ago, I ran one block. One block. Then I walked the rest of the mile I had routed out using the odometer on my car. I eventually worked myself up to completing that mile—at a pace of about 15 minutes per mile. At that rate, any dedicated walker could pass me. And they did.
When I first started running again, in 2004, I worked myself up to three miles in 30 minutes. It was my ultimate goal, and I ran three miles in 30 minutes, four to five times per week, for about seven months. It was the extent of what I believed I was capable of doing, and it was no small achievement for somebody who had lost nearly 100 pounds and who had never strung more than two miles together in a row.
Since that time, I have realized that I am quite capable of much, much more. I never thought I’d run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Until I ran three miles in 25 minutes. I never thought that I’d run more than three miles. Until I ran six. I never thought I’d run more than six. Until I ran 10. I never thought I’d run a half marathon. Until I did.
I’m what I like to call an “adult onset runner.” I never dabbled in cross-country or track during high school; I didn’t pick up jogging in college. I’m not a former swimmer, tennis player, or amateur ping pong champ. I played soccer when I was young and rode horses and motorcycles with my family, but believe me when I say that if I had possessed even a modicum of talent at any of those things, it was immediately crushed by my deafening lack of discipline.
All the voices in my head beat to the same drum, pounding out the rhythm that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t fast enough. I realize now that I was too scared to push myself. If I don’t try, if I don’t put in the effort and commitment required to make improvements, then I will certainly fail. And, when I fail, don’t I have a built in excuse? As long as I never stepped past my comfort zone, I could say, I never wanted that anyway. But to work for it, and still not get it? That would have been far too devastating for my fragile self-esteem.
No matter who you are, no matter where you are in your training, you will come to the point where you think you have hit the wall of your limitations. It doesn’t really matter if it’s running a mile in four minutes, or finishing a 10k in under an hour. It doesn’t really matter if you’re trying to run a mile or a marathon. At some point, you have to make the decision to do more than you ever thought you could. No matter what the voices in your head are telling you, when you keep going, something magical happens.
The magic is that the voice in your head shuts up. Maybe it’s drowned out by the music filtering through the headphones. Maybe it’s drowned out by the rhythmic pounding of your feet, the whoosh of your breath with every step. Quite suddenly, you may realize that it’s not drowned out at all. You can still hear it. You just didn’t recognize it because it stopped yapping about your shortcomings and now it’s a low hum, a buzz in your heart, and it’s saying yes. This feels good. I am unstoppable. I never want to stop.
For me, the moment doesn’t last long. It’s an elusive feeling, but when I have experienced it, it is in those moments that I have been able to completely change my long-held beliefs about my failings. There are days when it feels too hard, days when there’s not enough time, days when I feel sick to death of the mid-pack; but I keep running anyway. I keep running because it’s magical.
I want to start walking all the time, to be honest, but I don’t because I’m stubborn and because I want to run. That means I can’t walk. Other people have had huge success doing run/walk programs such as Couch to 5k, but my flow is to just run. I can slow down, but I can’t stop.
Not allowing myself to walk means that I am required to come up with ways to trick myself into continuing the run. One of my favorites is to ignore the urge to walk until I feel like I absolutely cannot possibly run another step. When I’m sure I can’t go on, I pick a spot up the street, or I start a new song on my Mini. I tell myself I can walk when I get to the spot, or the song is over, whichever one I’m using. This requires mental gymnastics the likes of which most normal people will never experience. If I let my mind dwell on what my body is doing, I become obsessed with stopping the run and starting to walk.
I focus on a variety of things to get me over the hump: I do math problems in my head. I pretend that I’m coming up on the homestretch of a race, finishing strong with my family and total strangers cheering me on. I crank the music. I put my head down and focus on my breathing. I pull my head up and take in the scenery. I let my mind wander where it will, the sights and smells of an outside run triggering memories. I practice writing about this accomplishment in my blog.
When the song ends, or I get to my spot on the horizon, it is clear to me that I was wrong! I could keep going—and I did keep going! So then I keep going some more.
I’m curious about what you all do to press on to your next level of achievement. I am a middle-aged mom of two. I’m so average it’s painful. Yet I’ve accomplished more, physically, than I ever dreamed possible. Doing that has made me believe that I have more accomplishments in my future; that they are there, for my taking. If I can do it, I believe you can too.
How do you keep running?