“The only time I would even contemplate running is if a bear were chasing me,” I emphatically told my date. He had just asked me if I liked to run. No, I did not like to run, I assured him. I have never in my life liked to run. I like to rollerblade. I like to dance. I like to ski. Running was an unpleasant experience into which I was forced in middle school gym class and hated every minute of it. Among my classmates, I was always the slowest runner and I always got a painful cramp in my side. The mere thought of running made me irritable even as an adult.
“Why would anyone want to run?” I had said many times in my life. “Runners always look like they are in pain when I walk by them in the park. I don’t get it.”
Thirty years later, I began dating a runner. He was excited about running. I mean, he actually smiled and became animated when he told me about his running adventures. He told me about running on trails. He told me about running in parks and on the beach. He told me how he ran in a mud race and showed me a picture of himself smiling, covered in mud from head to toe, at the finish of the race. Then, he invited me to run with him.
In four decades of my life, not a single person has ever been able to convince me to go running just for fun. And then, I met Albie. For some reason, Albie made running sound enjoyable. And, I really liked him, so I figured, what the heck?
When we first started running together, it was difficult for me to run much more than a few tenths of a mile without stopping. It was also the middle of summer in Atlanta and every time we went outside to run it was 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. I didn’t have the right clothes. I quickly became sweaty and winded. It was against my better judgment to let this guy I really liked see me all sweaty and without makeup three mornings a week. But, I did it anyway.
Much to my surprise, I began to actually enjoy running. It became somewhat of a personal goal – to overcome my distaste for the sport; to replace my objectionable middle school memories of running with more positive ones, perhaps. Albie and I continued dating and I continued running. Each time I ran with him, I went a little farther, not because I believed I could, but because he believed I could.
“I’ve got to stop,” I’d gasp, my face red, sweat dripping into my eyes.
“See if you can make it to that tree up there,” he would encourage me. “Focus on your breathing.” That tree, or mile marker, or parking lot usually wasn’t too far away, so I would try to make it. Then, when we got to the designated spot, Albie would encourage me again.
“I bet you can make it to that next mile marker,” he would tell me, smiling. “You can always go further than you think! Just tell yourself you can make it. You’ll be surprised at how far you can go.”
Each time, I would go a bit farther than I believed I could run, until one day I ran 2.2 miles without stopping. My pace was just slightly faster than a turtle stuck in peanut butter, but I did it, nonetheless. I was so excited, I jumped up and down, I hugged Albie, and then I immediately called my friend Katrina, an accomplished runner who could never convince me to run with her, even though she asked repeatedly.
“Katrina!” I said excitedly, “I just ran 2.2 miles without stopping!”
“That’s awesome!” Katrina told me. “I’m so happy for you!”
“Guess how I did it?” I asked. “Albie kept telling me I could go farther and then toward the end, when it was really hard, I just kept thinking I had to make it all the way so I could call you and tell you that I did it! You and Albie inspired me to keep going!”
Ultimately, our schedules became busier, the holidays rolled around and winter hit Atlanta with two major snowstorms (see Snowmageddon 2014). Instead of running several times a week we resorted to sporadic runs at parks or around the neighborhood. A couple times, when Albie asked me to run with him, I opted to walk my dog instead.
Then one day in February, I woke up to sunshine and the promise of spring-like temperatures and I felt motivated to run. In eight months since I started, I had never actually been running all by myself. It was never actually my idea, but always something I agreed to do, and was happy I did, when Albie suggested it. I always felt better physically and mentally after we ran, so why didn’t I do it more often?
This cool February morning, I got out of bed and put on running clothes. I took my daughter to school and drove straight to the park. I ran 1.2 miles, stopping only once to tie my shoe. It seemed as if my pace was even quicker than it had been in the past, until another runner blew by me on a downhill stretch of trail in the woods. I kept going anyway, believing I was running faster than I ever had before.
It was all over too quickly it seemed, as I slowed to a walk nearing my starting point. So, I began my second lap around the trail, staying on the inner loop this time for a shorter distance. When I got to the end of the trail for the second time, I started to get tired, but instead of stopping, I heard Albie’s voice in my head telling me I could make it to the parking lot. I continued up the small hill until I was back at my car, probably another half mile.
The day before I went running all by myself for the very first time in my life, Albie sent me a text that resonated with my psyche. It said, “It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you’re not.” Dennis Waitley, author of several inspirational books including, The Psychology of Winning, said that.
I am a writer, a mother, a daughter and a friend. I have been a dancer, a skier, a teacher, a waitress and a flutist. By my own admission and belief, I have never been a runner. I clearly set my own limitations.
When I finished my first solo run, I told Albie all about it. “I just ran 1.2 miles,” I said. “Then I walked a little and ran another half mile! I kept hearing your voice in my head telling me I could make it further, and I did.”
It feels official now. Not just because I did it alone, but because I told myself something new; something I had never told myself until that day: I am a runner.