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This weekend was a milestone weekend for me. I completed one of my big goals for 2015: I ran a race every month. Specifically, I ran six 5Ks, one 8K, four 10Ks, and one half marathon. From January until now, I’ve logged 872 miles on my Nike Plus app and will definitely go over 900 by the end of the year. I’m on my third pair of running shoes. I spent hundreds of dollars on running clothes, gear, and race fees. I turned down too many alcoholic drinks and desserts to count while training. I ran as little as three days and as often as six days a week. I ran in temperatures higher than 90 degrees. I ran in cold, cold rain. I ran at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I ran extra miles during the weeks before camping trips and holidays to make up for missing long weekend runs. I ran in Belgium when I was on vacation. I ran on the beach at the Oregon Coast. I ran in Bend. I ran on Halloween. I ran on Thanksgiving. I’ll probably run on Christmas.
As someone who ran twelve races in twelve months, this is what I can tell you about running. First and foremost: I did not wake up every morning excited to run. My brain was accustomed to feeding me excuses and it was even more accustomed to me accepting them. You’re right, Brain, it is pretty cold out there today. We do have a pretty full schedule. I’m tired, too. We could always run later, right? There’s so much to get done today. Did we even do laundry yet? Do we have a clean sports bra to wear? Maybe it would be better if we just run tomorrow.
To this day I cannot tell you where I found my gumption, but every morning my brain barraged me with a list of excuses and every morning I found the strength to counter them. It’s cold? Let’s put on our warm layers. Tight schedule? Let’s stop wasting time procrastinating this run. Run later? No thanks, I want to relax later and I can only do that if I get this out of the way first. You’re right, there’s a lot to do today – so let’s hurry up and mark this one off the list. Of course we did laundry. Of course we have a clean sports bra. In fact, we’re completely ready to go. All we’re waiting for, Brain, is you. By the way, do you want to run TWICE tomorrow? Because if you fall behind on your training schedule and miss today, that’s what you’ll end up doing. So why don’t we make this easier for ourselves and just run now?
Sometimes my brain let up quickly. Some days it did not. Some days I had to battle it for hours and hours. The sun would begin its descent and Brain and I would still be going at it, battling about taking the first step. But no matter how long it took – and some days it truly was more than half the day – I always won. I always had the last word. I always dragged that overthinking brain of mine outside and made it do when I needed it to do. And in the end, it always thanked me.
Here’s another thing I can tell you for sure about running: It doesn’t get easy. It gets easier, sure, but it doesn’t get easy. At this point I can make a fair guess that it never gets easy. I never strap on my shoes, glide out the door and fall into an easy, graceful rhythm as if floating across the sidewalk. I still get sweaty. I still get breathless. I still have to psych myself up to conquer a hill. But in January I could run a mile without stopping to walk and now I can run 15. In January I ran at a pace well over 12 minutes a mile and now I run at a pace faster than 8 minutes per mile. It didn’t get easy, but sometimes my brain shut off and I got through entire chunks of a run without thinking about it. Sometimes I reached my destination and realized I still had energy to spare. Sometimes I pushed myself, ran faster than I ever had, and made it through without falling apart. Still sweaty, still breathless, still feeling every muscle as it moved, but faster. Stronger.
I had to fight hard for some runs and not for others. There were days when the rhythm of the music through my headphones carried me through. There were days when my brain was so occupied thinking outside thoughts that it didn't compute the fact that it was running, too. And there were other days when I felt everything, every single movement, and it seemed as though I’d never reach the end. By now I have enough miles under my belt to know this: if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will reach the end – every time, even on days when I’m not feeling it. Feeling it or not, all I have to do is keep going.
Even the worst run is not a terrible run. Even if I feel like I’m pulling and dragging myself and my body’s giving out and my head’s not in it, I still feel victorious when I make it all the way through. Every run is a victory.
Some runs go beyond pulling and dragging and giving out. These are the days when my muscles coordinate and decide to fire on all cylinders, when I realize I’m able to attack a bigger hill or run faster or longer than I was able to do a year or a month or a week earlier. These are the days when my feet pound across the pavement and I know without a doubt that this is the fastest/ longest/ strongest I’ve ever run. And on these days, there isn’t a damn thing that’s going to stop me.
And maybe that’s the whole point of running: to show us who we really are. Running shows me my capabilities. It shows me my strengths. It shows me my ability to solve problems and adapt to situations gracefully. And it shows me that the rest of my life is manageable. If I can get through an icy cold, wet run, feeling pelts of rain against my skin, going against the wind, every muscle in my body burning as my fingers go numb and my brain screams, then trust me: I can get through anything. Any confrontation. Any annoying situation. Any miles-long to-do list. Any miscommunication. Any challenge. If I can get through a fifteen-mile training run, I can get through anything.
So here’s the big difference between me now and me a year ago: Now I know I can do anything. Physical strength is about so much more than physical strength. Physical strength transcends everything. My mind is stronger and clearer. My priorities are stronger and clearer. I’m better at managing my time and stress level. I’m better at communicating my needs and prioritizing self-care. I’m better at pushing myself both physically and in work endeavors. I’m better at dealing with life in general.
All of this because one day I had the little crazy idea to run twelve races in twelve months. It begs the question: What could you achieve if you followed through on your little crazy ideas?
You don't have to run twelve races. You don't have to run one race. You just have to find the thing that drives and challenges you, the thing you can't resist attacking even if you have to fight your brain a little each day to get there. It doesn't matter what this thing is as long as it means something to you. Find your thing, go for it, and don't look back.