You may not think it, but you’re capable of the things you think you’re not. It just takes time.
In this feature series, we share your answers.
This is reader Tracy Spangler’s:
I didn’t grow up running. I grew up maintaining that my ankles were too weak to run, and that it was too tiring and intense. Every time I did have to do it—during tennis practice in high school, for example—I was overly dramatic about how horrible it was, and I gritted my teeth until it was over.
I started to run about seven years ago. What I really wanted to do was start walking. But a friend who was training for a half marathon said I should try running with her. Why didn’t I just come along for a mile?
So, I did a mile. And it wasn’t so bad. I went for a slightly longer run with her the next time. She said it was about two miles, but later she texted that oh, actually it had been about three and a half. Whoops—we’d run a 5K!
I’m pretty sure she knew that the whole time.
Armed with the knowledge that running wasn’t the nightmare I’d expected, I started going up to our local nature reservation, where there was a nice tree-lined running path. At first, I struggled: Once I was aware that I planned to run two miles, or three, the pressure was on. When would it end? Could I just get to that tree? Could I just run around that one loop, and then be done? Sometimes I felt like I was trying to move my limbs through water. My shoulders would get tight, my breathing ragged.
But once I started to get my wind—running regularly enough that it didn’t tax my lungs so much, and I could keep going comfortably, even for half an hour or more—and became more familiar with the terrain, I started to let go and enjoy myself. I started to understand that looking ahead to the next landmark on the trail was the very thing that was making it feel so…hard. If I just remained where I was—in this stride, in this breath, and then the next one—they started to add up. I didn’t have to push so hard, or at all. I started to feel like I was inside the run. And it started to feel good.
Yoga had taught me this lesson: Being in the present moment is the best place you can be. It’s always the best place to be—actually, it’s always where we actually are. But for some reason, we humans have a hard time staying there. We’re always thinking about what already happened or what’s to come and feeling anxious, regretful, angry, excited, and lots of things about the places we actually aren’t.
Once you realize that staying with what is, right now, is actually more freeing and empowering than being just about anywhere else, you simply can’t wait to get back to doing an activity that puts you there again.
So I went from not wanting to even run a block (“bad ankles”) to training for a half marathon. It was to be in Princeton, New Jersey, on the same day as the New York Marathon that year; both were cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. But in my final training session, I ran 11.3 miles.
During that run, I felt great mentally. I could go with the ebb and flow, knowing that if I started to feel tired, in another mile or two I’d get in a zone where things opened up and I felt good and strong. I knew why I sometimes felt like a freaking rock star—it was because I was on a slight downhill—or completely overwhelmed (hill!). I got to the point where it felt better to keep going than to stop, even at 9 or 10 miles.
I didn’t ever get to the point where I thought a marathon was in my future—26.2 miles still sounds torturous. But even though I never got to officially run my half, I do know that I can do 13.1.
Though I do the occasional race, for a school fundraiser or charity, and even though I trained for that half, I find that I prefer to just run, and to do it alone. I go up to the reservation (which has since become one of my favorite places on Earth), put on my headphones, and go. I let go of everything else going on in my life and in my head, and I’m present with myself.
For me, the fact that it insists on your being present is one of the most important benefits (and perks) of physical exercise. When else are you really truly, authentically in the moment, without really having to think about it or remind yourself to be? Connecting with yourself physically is also, I’m convinced, the only real path to being present with your mental and emotional self.
For The Good Men Project Sports’ Why We Run feature, we are looking to collect YOUR comments, posts, Tweets, and emails that answer the questions: Why do you run? What are you running from? What are you running towards, if anything?”
Please send us your submission via email to myself at [email protected] or via Twitter @michaelkasdan #WhyWeRunGMP and #GMPSports. Submissions can also be made through the below comments section or on our Facebook page.
Photo Credit: Tracy Spangler
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