I wrote this a couple of years ago, but I think it serves as a good reminder of what we can learn and do when we try to do something for ourselves. I learned some valuable lessons about myself while I was training to run a 5K race with my daughters. I wasn’t at the greatest spot in my life and running – for a while – became a source of pride in myself. I haven’t run very consistently since this time, but I still try to get out there from time to time. I try to remind myself of these lessons.
SO WHY DID I START RUNNING ANYWAY?
Ten months later, sitting on my couch in the middle of a January vacation, I can feel my weight anchoring me around my gut. I feel sluggish, tying my shoes is getting to be occasionally difficult. Never would have noticed it before, but once it was gone, it’s a heavy reminder of the work I’m not doing.
Laying on the couch, listening to Led Zeppelin, trying to get my mind to shut off so I can check out. Even on vacation, with four different mood-altering drugs in my system, I can’t completely relax. Hoping the music will let me escape and drift off. It doesn’t.
I want to run, but it’s cold, it’s midnight and I’m out of shape. A million excuses. I’m not the same person I was ten months ago. That’s not possible really, we always change, but I feel different.
Last year I had just turned forty. That messed with me. I was depressed as hell and off my meds. No control. Just drifting. Scared to death. Chicken Little, just waiting for the world to come crashing in around me. No sense of myself, just getting through each day. I woke up every morning in a panic, if I had slept. Half the time I would doze off watching tv, start having bad dreams and wake up an hour or two later, knowing I wasn’t going back to sleep for the night. And as the alarm got closer, the anxiety would increase. Waiting for the world to end.
I’d spend an hour talking myself into getting up, convincing myself that there was some reason or other for me to give it a try that day. My wife, my kids. Maybe money. Maybe today was going to be different. Yeah right.
The days were terrifying. Feeling like the next person I talked to was going to be the one I pissed off and got fired for. Or maybe it was already the one I had just talked to. Constantly waiting for something to go wrong. That’s exhausting work when you’re not sleeping. Pins and needles, paranoid. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Pick your favorite, they all apply.
I blew all my vacation time in one chunk, thinking I could get myself straightened out. Got on a low dose of meds, but that didn’t help. Made thing worse. Full-blown panic attacks a couple times a day became the norm. Work – had to take a demotion to help me deal with my stress. That didn’t help. Reinforced that I wasn’t good enough. You tell yourself that enough when you’re depressed, you don’t need it coming through other parts of your life, too.
So I was just existing a year ago. Dragging myself out of bed when I could. Doing the things I absolutely had to, paid the bills, picked up the kids, went through the motions. Some days I would even take a shower. But there was nothing for it. I was miserable. I hated myself. I hated my life.
So one day, one of the kids come home with a form for a thing they want to do at school. It’s called Girls On The Run. A running club at school that ends with them running a 5K. That’s cool. Their mom runs. It’ll be good for them. Says it works on building self-esteem. Good, they’re not getting that at home, that’s for sure. So we sign them up. Start getting more information back and it turns out that each kid has to have an adult run the 5K with them. We’ve got twins doing this. I’m going to have to run.
That’s how I started running. It wasn’t for me – at the start. I got myself out there on the road so I could support one of my kids.
My first “run” took place in early March. One of those days where it’s more wintry than anything. Dark clouds, some big snowflakes falling lazily, just enough to cover the road. We had gone for a walk as a family and I decided ok, this was it. I was going to start.
Put on my ipod, sent the family inside and here we go. Seven houses. Seven whole houses later I was out of breath, hands on my knees, lungs burning. So I caught my breath, started walking and kept going. I’d run when I could, but mostly I was going for a brisk walk, all the time wondering how the hell I was going to not embarrass my daughter and be able to run 3.1 miles in two months. My wife had just run her first marathon a few months before, and was rightfully the athletic hero in the house. I had some work to do. run the three blocks to the end of our street. And each time I went, I was able to run a little farther and get done a little faster. So I was making progress. Still didn’t see what was in it for me, but I was doing it.
I don’t really remember much about how I was feeling about myself at that time other than I wasn’t doing well. I must have known it too. I was taking whatever I could get. Therapy sessions with local Buddhist clergy just to help me cope. I’d had my fill of traditional therapy years ago. Watching TED talks from self-help authors that had been on Oprah. Even worse, one of them resonated with me, so I read her book.
One of the things she emphasized was putting yourself out there – a little at a time – but consciously, deliberately daring yourself constantly. It was a way to battle anxiety. You know you’re always going to have some, but if you’re creating some – and dealing with it – you were growing and learning to deal with the anxiety at the same time.
She gave the example of a Winston Churchill speech and this quote from it to explain her premise:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
Except me – I had never allowed myself that option – I was a perfectionist. Look where it had gotten me.
This book (“Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown) really spoke to me, so I decided to put myself out on a limb. I told a small handful of people I was running, and that I was planning to run a race.
So a few weeks into my running career, I consciously decided to start running for myself. My first goal was to run with my daughter. Secondarily, I was able to give myself an arena to go into and try something I didn’t think I could do. I could struggle. I could fail. But I wasn’t going to quit. I was committed to keep after this – at least until the race.
Running became the place where I could try some things out on my life. It was completely new to me. There was nobody to blame for what happened except me. There was also no one to praise for what happened except for me. That was big.
As far as the running goes, nothing real exciting or surprising to report. I ran regularly and I got faster and stronger. Go figure. As the race approached, I knew I’d be able to run the whole thing with no problems. And I did it – but that day was for my kids, not me. What was for me were the lessons I’d started to learn while I was running.
I could struggle, and it didn’t have to be in silence. This was one of the first things running allowed me to work on. I was a novice, I had no clue what I was doing, and running is hard. There’s no trying to look like you’re supposed to be there when you’re gasping for breath trying to push yourself up a long hill. You’re gonna sweat, it’s gonna hurt and people are going to see that. And it’s ok. I used to try to look away from people when I was struggling on a run. Never let them see you sweat, you know? After a while, that went away. Yes, my face looks like I’m giving birth to a puppy while I’m running past you, but I’m still gonna look you in the eye and say hi. If you’re cute, I might even try to smile too. At least when I was running, I didn’t feel the need to hide when things were hard for me. I was out there, I was the man in the arena.
I learned I could fail. Each run in your life does not get progressively better. At some points – ok, at many points things are going to go badly and it’s going to hurt more and you’re going to run more slowly. And it’s ok. They’re not going to come take your sneakers away in the middle of the night. You’re going to have another day when you can go out and try again. Some of those days are going to be glorious. Some of them will just plain suck. Just keep doing it. This also applies to daily life. Sometimes, I remember that. Not always, but that’s what the meds and therapy are for.
I learned that pain is not an indicator of weakness. I never knew this before I ran, but PAIN IS AN INDICATOR OF GROWTH. Pain is an opportunity to strengthen yourself. You look at what hurts and see what you did that caused it and what you can to fix it going forward.
This is how my running career started. When my personal life was falling apart, I found something where I could learn life’s lessons on my own time, at my own pace, on my own two feet.