When I was a twelve year old, I joined the cross country team at my junior high school. My motivation? The small fact that one had to join the cross country team to be eligible to join the basketball team. Prior to this particular school year, my interest in athletics solely existed on the playground during recess or after lunch. I proved to be somewhat capable in certain sports: capture the flag, flag football, perhaps a bit on the basketball court. When I say somewhat capable, that might be a bit of a reach. In the seventh grade, I’d estimate that I was medium height for my age–perhaps 5’3″ and I weighed around 100-115 pounds. My legs were skinny and my feet seemed to overwhelm them a bit. Ever the awkward, clumsy girl, I tried my hardest to be an athlete. I worked hard to impress my coaches. When it came time for the 1 mile cross country meet, I was ready. I finished in the middle of the pack and I was very proud of that effort. The 1 1/2 mile meet was a bit more challenging, but I finished in the middle of the pack. Then it came time for the 2 mile meet. I can remember doing okay for the first part of the meet, but when it was time to start the last mile I felt the air in my lungs become shallow and I can only imagine my legs felt like lead. I ran, walked, did whatever I could to keep going. Then the running route curved around behind the bleachers and I saw my father. Panting with exhaustion, sweat running down my face….I asked him “Daddy, can I quit?” His answer was probably one of the defining moments of my life. He said I could quit if I wanted to, if I felt like I needed to–but he knew I could do it, and I would regret it if I didn’t finish that race. I nodded because I knew he was right. I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and continued on my way. I didn’t finish first. I didn’t finish in the middle. I didn’t finish last. I finished next to last, but I finished. I finished that damn race.
As an adult, I tend to make my problems way more complex than they really are. Often, I’ve avoided issues and made things worse. I have been afraid to confront things that bother me, and usually lack the bravery of my youth. You see, when we’re young, we don’t know things are hard until someone points it out to us. That day of the 2 mile race wasn’t one of the first times I’d been presented with something challenging, but it was the first time that I can ever remember thinking of quitting. It was one of the first times I ever felt that inner voice screaming “You can’t do this” and “You’re not good enough” and sadly it wasn’t the last.
I’ve been arguing with that voice ever since. That voice that told me “you’ll never be a runner” or “you’re not an athlete” is always in the back of my head. No one ever said those words to me, yet they are there constantly. Or WERE there constantly.
In the fall of 2015, I decided I needed a new adventure. Ever since an injury stole my ability to participate in roller derby, I searched for an alternative. Something that got my heart racing and my blood pumping, and took my mind off of regular ol’ life. I decided I’d silence that voice in my head that told me I couldn’t run. I’d been walking long distances for quite some time, but I had to work my way up to even be able to handle the C25k program. I began working out with a trainer to help build muscles around my knee so that I wouldn’t re-injure myself. My friend Janeen, who I’ve known since I was in 7th grade, began training with me and patiently encouraged me and gave me exercises to do at home. Slowly that negative voice in my head transformed into the positive reminders in Janeen’s voice, the encouragement in my trainers’ voices….and then the negativity was gone.
It’s an amazing journey I’m on….my body looks and feels different. My leg muscles are strong and capable where they were once flabby, my stomach is getting smaller, and instead of having a double chin– it’s more like a chin-and-a-half now. In 2011, when I first started to exercise again in a legit way, a 1/4 of a mile was hard for me. Now, I walk 3-4 miles easily. Others are starting to notice the changes, too. Co-workers, family, friends, and even my new trainer are all commenting. I still have a long way to go, but it is a relief to hear those kind things in my head as I’m running. I AM a runner. I’m not fast, but I will be. Even today, as I felt like I wanted to quit, I told myself “Just run to the stop sign.” When I got to the stop sign, I rested, and then I kept going. I picked out points along the way to “just keep running” to. It’s a metaphor for how life should be–instead of looking for places to quit or reasons to stop, shouldn’t we aim ahead? For the first time I’m running TO something and not away, and it’s the best feeling.