If you saw me on the street, you would never mistake me for a runner. I am not sleek or lean. I hover between a size ten and twelve. I have a doughy mid section. If my kids are not in proximity, I generally have a beer in my hand. My appearance signals that I know where to get good cupcakes. It does not scream “I just ran a half marathon.” Yet, that is precisely what I did yesterday.
I can’t quite believe it myself. Since I had thirteen miles of pure thinking time, I covered a lot of topics within my head. I thought about the drastic change in the athlete I used to be, compared to the athlete I am now.
My father passed away a couple of years ago. He was a sports fanatic. He watched professional and college sports, but he was also very active in his kids’ lives through sports. After the 1984 Olympics, I was determined to be the next Mary Lou Retton. We lived 25 miles from a major city, but that didn’t stop him from helping me try to realize my dream. Every week, he drove me thirty five minutes each way so I could awkwardly walk on the balance beam and attempt to fly over the vault.
He attended every basketball game I ever played, from elementary school through my sophomore year. It would be easy to understand this dedication if I was a star athlete, but I looked like a flailing chimpanzee on the basketbal court. I was a “good hustle” kid. I remember at one of my games in fourth grade, he told me he’d give me fifty cents for each basket I made. I believe I racked up $1.50, and that was probably the best game I ever played.
I was pondering my not so stellar athletic past, and something kind of hit me. Being an athlete is not just something you aspire to in high school or college. Being an athlete is a life goal. Maybe I used to be the girl at the track meet who walked nearly 50% of the two mile run, finishing the last 100 yards with a sprint (gotta finish strong), but now I am a person who ran a half marathon.
I have no idea if there is a heaven out there, and what life my dad went on to after he passed away. But if he can somehow see me, I like to think that I am becoming the athlete he always wanted me to be.
When we finished the event, my husband, Ben, asked me where the half marathon ranked on my list of physical challenges. I thought about it, and determined that it is all relative to where I am in my life and athletic ability. The first time I ran a mile in under ten minutes was much more difficult for me.
My brother, Jeff, is active duty Air Force. He was telling me about his yearly fitness test. He told me he had to be able to run a mile in under ten minutes. I was probably around thirty five at the time. I don’t know why this figure left an impression on me, but it did. I thought as a reasonably healthy, young person, I should be able to accomplish this goal.
The first time I went for a run, I walked for about thirty minutes with 3-5 minutes of horrible staggered jogging thrown in the mix. I would run for about a minute, and then gasp for air for the next five minutes. It was pathetic. Normally, that would deter me from ever trying again, but I had that figure stuck in my head. I wanted to be able to run a mile, dammit!
I kept after it. Running is incredibly challenging, but I think most people make progress fairly quickly. Within a few weeks, my distance increased to a half mile. Then three quarters, and finally a mile, but nowhere near the ten minute time I was aspiring to.
One afternoon, I just felt it in my bones- Today is the day. I walked a few minutes for a warm up, got to my starting point, and set my mind to the goal. I turned on Missy Elliot’s “Lose Control,” started the stopwatch function on my cellphone, and set off.
I thought I was running at a quick pace, but upon looking at my stop watch at the halfway mark, I determined I needed to increase my speed if I was going to make my time. My lungs were on fire. I panted and did my best to take in huge gulps of air, but I was gasping for any little bit of oxygen. My quads burned from the exertion, my calves tightened into little balls. Somehow I kept pushing it. I hurled myself over the line in the sidewalk that I designated as my finishing line, and immediately looked to my stop watch to see the time. 9:57!!
I slowly walked and gulped water for about a half mile. Then I called my brother to tell him I did it. Looking back, I think I was actually more excited and more proud of myself running that first mile, than the thirteen I did yesterday.
I am thirty eight. I have had two children. I am in the best shape of my life. I don’t say that to brag, or to make anyone else feel bad. I say that to remind you that any day could be your first day to step up to that new challenge. It doesn’t have to be a grand event or a huge goal. Just an accomplishment that would mean something to you.
Perhaps there will be roadblocks along the way. In training for this half marathon, I had many many times where I could not get myself to run more than 1.5 miles at a time. I frequently had internal conversations about “what have I gotten myself in to?” But if I had a bad day, I didn’t let that deter the bigger goal. I reached out to friends for inspiration and advice. I’d download new songs that I’d look forward to listening to. I completed smaller races to keep me excited. I’d evaluate what was making me struggle, like running when the temperature was too hot, and adjust accordingly. The important thing is that I didn’t let small setbacks get the better of me. I kept going.
Today could be your day. The day you say “yes” to something you’ve always wanted to do. And when you get there, give yourself permission to feel good about your accomplishment. You worked hard, you earned it, and your life is richer for having done it.
Go ahead. Get that goal stuck in your head. What do you want to do?