I am not a natural athlete. After running my first half marathon this spring, I called my mom who said, “There was nothing in your childhood that would ever indicate you would be athletic. I mean, ever.” So there’s that.
Cardio shortcomings aside, I followed a pretty typical Gen X checklist of college, career hopping, graduate school, more career hopping to reach desired titles and salaries. That path my mother could believe since I used to sit at our kitchen table with her rolodex, a pad of paper, an unplugged phone and play office. (My brother used to fill in the blanks on ledger sheets and now he’s a CFO. I’m not sure if our hobbies were fortuitous or if we were just really bored.)
When I started running last year, I assumed it was mind over matter. My plan was simple: run as fast as I could for as long as possible and then collect a shiny medal. But my pace quickly settled on light-joggy and I lurched along with a not-so-glamorous gait.
During a race, I would tuck in behind other runners and use them for pacing and comparison. At a 12Ks of Christmas run last December, I was in an all-out sprint to the finish line because an older woman (in a Christmas sweater) was ahead of me. Bah humbug.
And even as I pushed myself harder and went longer, I couldn’t fully appreciate my milestones. Whether it was 3.1 or 13.1 miles, I always had a mental measure chipping away at my victories because I didn’t finish without stopping.
I was never satisfied and, after a while, I burned out. So after returning from a long vacation this summer, I started running a few miles a few days a week just to be in the fresh air.
I recently began working with a cardio coach who is teaching me about running to my heart rate, not the clock. Endurance, she said, is the goal. “Run your own race,” she said. That meant getting out of my head, which is not easy for this home-grown nerd.
To test this, I signed up for another race and showed up at the start line without my trusty GPS to tell me the miles and count the minutes. I was full of adrenaline even though my feet were going slow. As I watched people stream by me, it became a course of mental endurance. I had to release all my have-to’s and slow down in a crowd of hundreds.
It was hard to see so many costumed strangers pass me. First the women in tutus and then the stroller joggers went by. I stayed ahead of (most of) the dogs. Small victories. Then after a mile or so, I started passing those same people. Not because I was going fast but because I was still going.