Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mommy's Project 52:3 Challenging

What is challenging to one person might be easy to another.  What challenges me might make me stronger, but what challenges someone else might break their confidence.  We all face challenges in our lives every day, and how we respond to those challenges is as unique as we are individual.

I have become a runner over the past year.  I never would have imagined one year ago that I would be doing what I am today.  I am running, racing, and competing against myself every time I hit the pavement.  I went from barely squeaking out a finish in a 5K race to training for a 1/2 marathon, and hopefully doing Chicago in 2012.  I get nervous at every starting line.  I get nervous before every longer distance I run.  I get upset when my body argues with my activity and how hard I push myself.  I get aggravated when I get behind someone much slower than myself.  In the end, the biggest obstacle I face is myself, my mind, my "self-talk".

Today, it's not the distance or the speed that challenge me the most, it's the mind games I play with myself as I run, regardless of how I am feeling or performing.  That sudden desire to stop when my body says go.  The negative thoughts my brain spews when my lungs are rejoicing and my legs are flying.   Convincing myself I can get to that next crack in the pavement, the next curve in the path, the next 10 steps, when all along I know I can go 10 times as far.  In the end, my biggest challenge, as a runner, is believing in myself.  I have to work to believe that I can, I will, and, often, I have.

This past Monday, I had a tremendous run.  While on vacation, I set out to run on a route I planned on an online map site.  I estimated the run to be just under 10 miles, about .5 miles longer than my longest run to date.  I was excited, but nervous.  I was in a new location on roads I'd never run before, and wasn't entirely sure of the terrain.  Still, I got myself together and hit the road for what would be a most amazing run through Sturgeon Bay, WI.

While its distance wasn't as I'd expected (about 2 miles shorter), the whole experience completely surpassed my expectations.  It was beautiful, interesting, and most of all, I did it.  I navigated an area I'd only driven a handful of times, and only viewed from an aerial view on the internet.  I figured I would get as far as a certain point, rest or walk, then do my best to run as much of the return to the resort.  Normally, I have to will myself not to walk, not to stop, and not to get too upset if I did so.  My route would take me down this beautiful road, into town, and over a drawbridge over the Bay.  I planned to get to the bridge, but not cross it, and turn around and head back.  I did not do that.  I did not stop, I did not walk, and I did not pass GO or collect $200.  Instead, I adopted a slow pace right out of the driveway at the resort, only checking my Garmin two or three times in the first 3/4 mile to make sure I was keeping an even pace.  Once I got the feel for my pace, I stopped looking at the Garmin, only seeing it on my wrist again when I got back to the parking lot at the resort.  What a great feeling that was!!

Once into town, another runner passed me up on the sidewalk and I, for a brief moment, considered trying to speed it up and keep up with him.  Once I came to my senses, though, I realized that would only spoil the rhythm I had going on and would sabotage my whole run.  I kept my steady, slow pace and enjoyed looking at the store fronts in the very small town.  As the other runner and I turned a corner, I saw the bridge before me.  I had planned to just get to the bridge and turn back.  Why?  Why not?  What would I have to lose either way?  So, I sucked it up and just continued on, going over the drawbridge, passing a couple early morning armchair photographers, hoping to capture a perfect early morning moment in the Bay.  I've learned that in the early morning hours, unless the other person is also running, they tend to look at you (the one running) with a look that says, "Better you than me, sucker".  And I learned that morning that I could look back at those people and say, "Yes, better me than you".

I crossed that bridge and turned right around and crossed it in the other direction.  That's right.  I went from planning to just reach the bridge to actually crossing it and coming right back over it.  I can't even begin to describe what a great feeling it was to do that, and how equally amazing it felt to realize - I was doing it.  I was out running, in the morning, and on the path I'd only seen on the computer (and vaguely remembered from the drive to the resort a few days prior).  Best of all, I felt great.  My legs (including testy IT bands), my feet (grouchy metatarsalitis), my lungs (no issues there, thankfully), it all felt great as I ran with the gentle breeze along the Bay.  Even my mind, normally active and critical, was calm peaceful, and happy.  I came back over the bridge and started back on the path that brought me into town, and successfully fought off any inkling of negative thought that tried to enter my brain.

I knew right away that this was a great run, but navigating that bridge put me over the top.  Never before had I been able to, convincingly (I hope), smile at other runners, bikers, or people in cars as they came toward me from the other direction for the entire duration of a (longer than 5 mile) run.  As I got closer and closer to the resort, I could tell my pace was slower than at the start, but, that didn't matter.  As long as I was still running, I was fine (in my head).  My body felt great, my lungs felt great, and my mind was essentially silent.  There were no negative thoughts, no trying to convince myself to walk or stop, and I was truly happy.

As I ran back toward our resort, into the strong breeze that was coming off the Bay, I thought of so many things, but most of all I realized - I'd never run this far without walking.  It's no marathon, but it's a huge (non-walking) distance for me at this point, and, best of all - it felt great.

If even temporarily, I feel that I overcame the inner voice that tries to squelch my confidence and my accomplishments.  I faced the challenge of a new route, a new distance, and a steady pace, and not only met that challenge, but, blew it out of the water!  I didn't care that my distance wasn't what I had expected (total distance: 7.2 miles, rather than the almost 10 I'd predicted).  I did care, however, that I had kept myself positive, I took in the scenery along the way, and I enjoyed the entire run.

I felt, if even just at the completion of that run, that I am a runner.  I stopped questioning my decision to join a racing team and my decision to try for a 1/2 marathon.  I knew, at that moment, the moment I hit <stop> on my Garmin, that I CAN do it.  I am able, and I WILL.

So now that I've reached this point, I feel confident that I can meet my next goal, the 1/2 marathon.  It's funny how a single run can open your mind to the possibilities that lie before you.  This run made me realize that I do want to strive for more, for better, for faster, for farther.  And I know I can because I challenge myself to do so, and I know I'll get there.

"you aer best", by Ethel