Let’s start where any good teacher should: empathy, of the deep and genuine variety.
NO ONE hates running as much as I do (did. . . it’s still shocking to say that and mean it). Not a soul on Earth (or Jupiter for that matter). And there isn’t a soul this side of the Milky Way as inherently horrible at it as I am either. This isn’t up for debate. These statements are factual, absolutely so.
Having struggled with severe body image issues and eating/exercise disorders throughout my adolescent years, my inability to run always made me feel weak, embarrassed. . . somehow “less than.” I always assumed that if I were better, stronger, healthier, I’d be able to run. In retrospect, I realize that the physicality of it wasn’t the issue. I’m strong, always have been: muscular build, moderately good shape. . . but no matter my level of physical fitness, the MOMENT I started to run, my heart turned to lead and jumped into my throat and my lungs burst into unquenchable, murderous flames of agony that threatened sudden death.
The problem had to be mental. This realization almost made me feel worse. . . weakER than I already felt. After all, “a weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things, but cannot receive great ones” Lord Chesterfield. My “weak mind” made me feel not only like a failure, but like a pathetic one to boot.
I’m tempted to go into a series of stories that illustrate my deep and abiding genetic aversion (read: hatred) of running. . . tales of forged doctor’s notes in middle school all the way up to pretended sprained ankles in my 20′s (for real, my 20′s, how embarrassing of me). But I don’t see the necessity. You already get it, and I’m confident you have a dozen or so stories of your very own.
The limiting belief.
I was simply not built for running.
The turning point.
Then life flipped upside down, got hit by a train, burst into flames and left me for dead . . . covered in the ash of broken dreams and the debris of a shattered heart. There was no where to go. No one to help. I wandered aimlessly along the unmarked paths of a barren wasteland called Grief. . . though “Hell” would be more fitting.
What am I saying? I wasn’t left for dead. I was dead. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. . . I was in fact dead. Dead (wo)man walking. And these feelings (or rather the lack thereof) lasted a very, very long time. Until one day, to put it lightly, I tired of it. I needed to feel, or I WOULD go crazy. Even if what I felt was painful, I deeply believed that any feeling, even pain, was better than the lack thereof.
As luck would have it, my DEAR friend (and life coach of sorts), Angel Naivalu, was organizing a race on the North Shore of Oahu. A half marathon. I registered.
I wanted to feel, and I was just desperate enough that pain would serve as good an emotion as any. Well, what could be more painful than a 13 mile trail run?
Step 1: Commit
I think my knee jerk decision to register for this race was ultimately a make it or break it kind of choice. If you’re truly starting from the couch, I absolutely believe that in order to ensure your success, you’ve got to have a solid, time bound goal in front of you. What could be more fitting than an actual race? If your stomach is in knots at the mere thought of this absurdity, start small. A 5k (appx 3 miles) is a HUGE accomplishment.
Step 2: Accountability
The next thing I did was publicly announce my registration, this way I wouldn’t be able to back out without considerable humiliation.
You’ve got to have an unyielding circle of accountability. Blog, Facebook, tweet, whatever it is you do, do it. Do it loud and strong. Lock yourself in to your goal. It made 1,000% of the dfference for me.
Step 3: Plan
My next step was to find a realistic training plan for a beginner like me. After much research, I settled on Hal Higdon’s Novice Program (he has an intermediate and advanced option as well).
The first run of the training program was THREE MILES. I about wet myself. There was NO WAY in HECK I could run 3 consecutive miles. I couldn’t even make it to my mailbox without tasting the looming promise of impending death. I was terrified.
This was IMPOSSIBLE, and I knew it.
So, I did what I always do when I’m up against impossible, I took 3 looooooong, deeeeeeep breaths. The oxygen calmed the storm of self-deprecation just long enough for me to find the clarity to do what I do best: Make a plan. Keep it simple. Work my plan.
I decided that if I were going to survive, necessity dictated that I determine in advance where I would allow myself to rest.
In past, failed attempts at running, I always flew by the seat of my pants and ALWAYS quit when the going got rough. This time, I owned the reality that I’d need periods of rest, and I planned accordingly. I clocked the entire 3 mile course and decided on 4 or 5 different places where I would allow myself to walk.
This process makes it so much easier to keep going, because you’re not making the decision while you’re in the fiery furnace of misery and horror. You’ve already decided, and there’s no negotiation.
Step 4: Previsualize
Now this is where it all gets a little bit hippie. Blame my parents. They did it to me.
As far as reality was concerned, I couldn’t run a block. The thought of even making an attempt at 3 miles threw me into discouragement and despair. I needed to change my thinking.
I vividly remember sitting on the edge of my bed and mentally mapping out my course. I saw myself getting up in the morning, lacing up my running shoes and heading out into the dawn light. I saw myself running the stretches of the course I’d committed to running and walking those I’d predetermined to walk. I included all kinds of details in this meditation, like the temperature at 6am as well as the early morning sounds and smells of La’ie. I mentally completed the course 3 or 4 times before opening my eyes.
Yes, Richie thought I was psychotic. (Rather he pretended to. Ultimately he respects the power of the mind as much as anyone.)
Step 5: take along your team.
Team Natalie was imaginary. As I embarked on that first run (and nearly every subsequent one) I consistently imagined myself running behind a friend or family member who I knew loved and supported me. I know, hippie, don’t say you weren’t forewarned. I would imagine myself literally tethered to my friend Angel, and I would imagine that she was pulling me along behind her. It made me feel less isolated and more capable. . . knowing she was “there” supporting me.
Shut up, this junk works.
Step 6: RESOLVE.
Brian Tracy has a quote that I really love and completely believe of myself. I share this with caution as I would never want to offend anyone. Please, take this with a grain of salt and try to see if just MAYBE there is a piece of you here. If not, you may simply disregard and happily move along with your life.
“The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich. People are overweight and unfit because they have not yet decided to be thin and fit. People are inefficient time wasters because they haven’t yet decided to be highly productive in everything they do.”
I jumped in with both feet. I WOULD FINISH THAT FIRST RUN, come Hell or high water!
That first run, at the very last stretch, I was over the top. I was so uncomfortable, so exhausted. I was D.O.N.E, done. I remember the thought popping in to my head “Do you want to quit on life?” And suddenly I was flooded with feeling . . . painful emotion. . . unresolved pain over my brother and my son’s deaths. . . dark, scary emotions. . . hidden beneath layers and layers of denial and fear. Then. . . all these feelings, all this doubt, all this fear, all this intense sorrow and pain was followed by something miraculous.
Suddenly I wasn’t running for any other reason than to SURVIVE. . .to somehow find myself beneath all those layers that equated to who I was pretending to be, and suddenly, the girl underneath it all was worth fighting for!
Over time, I’ve come to learn that for me, running is a near exact reflection of my day to day life. The same desire to quit I experience when I’m coming in from a long, hard run, is the same desire to quit I feel in life in general when the going gets rough.
Pushing through a long, hard run, gives me the courage and mental capacity to step up to my life when necessity dictates. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I complete a hard training session (be it 1 mile or 15) makes me yearn for that same feeling in the day to day activities that make up my life and gives me the courage to go after it, no matter the cost!
I run because somewhere between the sounds of my rhythmic breath and my feet hitting the pavement, my soul is honest and alive. I run because it makes me feel capable and strong.
I run because I found out that I can. . .
And if I can do it, anyone can.
PS. For those of you who are wondering, yes, I did complete the first annual Gunstock Trails Half Marathon (3rd to last). And YES, I did burst into tears as I crossed that finish line. There’s no way to explain the feeling, the words are yet to be invented.