“I run. I may be slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, but I run.” My cousin Sarah quotes from her storehouse of memes when I expressed my concerns to her about why I couldn’t run a 5k. “It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how much of it you walk, the point is to just do it.”
I was skeptical. More than skeptical: I was a defeatist.
I grew up with three brothers and was always trying to be one of the guys. I tried to keep up, but often couldn’t or was discounted even before I began because I was a girl. So when I attended a survivalist boot camp, I was eager to try my best to overcome any obstacle. I actually did pretty good at facing whatever they threw at me. Drop you off in the middle of the woods and have to find your way back? Sure. Tear down camp, hike a mile, and set it up again in the middle of the night? Ok. Grab, kill, and cook your own dinner? No problem. My brothers did it. I could do it too.
But the part I always got mad at myself for not doing well was the 2 mile run. They would wake us up at 4 in the morning, drive us to a trail, and tell us we can take as long as we want to walk/run 2 miles. They would remind us that our only challenge was to beat ourselves, to do better than we thought we could. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised I didn’t do well. I was a weeny 12 year old with heart palpitations, and I was doing it alone. But I always felt like I was failing miserably. We were supposed to push ourselves, do our best. It was a mental challenge, and one I could never amount to. I would always end up walking most of it, knowing I could do better, but not being able to push past the mental wall that kept me from giving it everything I had.
I attended 9 of these boot camps as a participant, and another 10 as a leader when I got older. Even at age 19, I struggled to improve myself on the 2 mile run challenge after 19 tries.
When Sarah finally convinced me into running a 5k with her, I was both nervous from anticipating failure, and hungry to beat it. 3.1 miles would be the most I had ever run at any one time, and I had only a week to prepare. A week that I mostly spent thinking of excuses to cancel and wondering if I would hate myself later for using them.
Then I found out my husband didn’t think running a 5k was a big deal. Anyone could do it. And that was all I needed.
Determined to not fail at something that was “no big deal”, determined to make up for all the times I fell behind my brothers, determined to finally prove to myself that I could push past any mental barrier and run more than 2 little miles at a time, I showed up and was going to run no matter what.
By the time Saturday arrived, it was -1 degrees outside, with a -26 degree wind chill. Out of the 40 runners signed up, only 17 came. But I didn’t care if my fingers fell off. I was going to run this race and I was going to push myself to beat my record. Somehow, the concept of being physically strong was related to being a strong woman in my mind. And this race felt like a make or break moment to me.
It ended up being not too bad, except for the last quarter of the run, but by then I had no choice but to finish. My muscles were uncomfortably hot but my skin was numbingly cold, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have frostbite on my fingers. My scarf had started off protecting my face from the wind, but by the end it was a useless piece of cloth coated in frost banging against my chapped lips.
But I came in third, and even beat my time. But that wasn’t even the best part. A third of the way through the run, I found myself in the middle of some beautifully snowy woods, couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me, and all I could hear were my shoes crunching snow under my feet. It was in that moment that I decided I had become the person I wanted to be and was going to go on to achieve big dreams.
What I really want to tell you, gentle reader, is that the vision we have of ourselves from the past and what our limitations used to be is very often a lie. And I think we would all be surprised at what we can accomplish if we face our fears. Especially together. Having my cousin there is probably the biggest reason I didn’t use one of my many excuses and stay home. If you are feeling a little defeated this week, or don’t believe like you can accomplish much because of who you are, I invite you to grab another woman, tell her your struggles, and find a challenge you can do together. And remember, you don’t have to keep up with anyone but yourself. That is sometimes the hardest thing to overcome, but you don’t have to do it alone.
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