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Photo – city of Vancouver archives. 1940. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but I like it.

In grammar school and junior high I was on a track team. I was also on the soccer team as it included lots of running and sprinting in particular. Sprints were my specialty on the track team. I could be counted on to shoot out of the starting gate and cross the finish line ahead of the pack while wearing my Sears Keds specials with no cleats. I ran to school, I ran home from school. Running was my thing.

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Up until I was in my mid-forties I would run regularly, but combine it with walking. Then because of laziness, hormones, the belief that I was hurting my knees, and probably some boredom with running itself, I stopped. Regardless, distance has never been my thing.

Flash forward to two weeks ago when I ran a 5K. The place where I have been working out and that I’ve written about on this blog (shout out to the #Jennyschatzleprogram) signed us up and I thought, what the hell, I’ll just do it! I showed up after work REALLY not wanting to be there and actually quite nervous. There was no one to hang out with that I knew well or to run with for that matter. Somewhat of an introvert and caught up in my own performance fears, I didn’t really feel like putting myself out there and making new friends at that particular moment. Eventually chatting with a few women, I soon realized we were all feeling the same way – nervous and doubtful that we could do this run. My plan was to run until my lungs were burning, my knee started to hurt, or I puked and then walk the rest of it.

My fearful excuses ?

  1. Sure I used to be a runner but I was a sprinter, not a long distance runner. 3.1 miles was too far for me.
  2. Lately, I’ve only been running on the treadmill in bursts of speed. Cement and long distance were not compatible with the running I’ve been doing the last few months.
  3. A lingering self-doubt and general not-good-enough haze that tend to cloud my everyday performance  – both of which can be cleared away by getting out of a comfort zone and doing something scary, like karaoke (never done it) or bikini shopping.

We started off on and the first half of the run was a slight uphill, which meant that the way back would have the sweet push of downhill momentum. I gave myself goals along the way, like, just make it five more minutes, or now just make it to that tree, or just make it to the halfway point. And I kept going. The mental self-doubt game is strong in me during challenging moments and I wanted to win this mental game, while being careful enough of my physical self to actually be able to walk the next day.

A quarter of the way in as I was chugging along (the quote “slow and steady wins the race” became my mantra for the run), this woman who I see in my morning classes passed me by. I always notice her because she’s really pretty and has striking platinum blonde hair that’s hard to miss. She always chews gum and she NEVER sweats during class, no exaggeration. In our 7am class I am tomato faced and dripping, inhaling with a concerning rasp as I try to re-oxygenate my lungs and she’s snapping her gum all, “Yeah, I’m going to do some extra jumping jacks during the 15 second break between movements” while her hair remains perfect.

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K.V. Switzer – first woman to run the Boston Marathon

So, the blonde blows by me with a couple of friends; her color coordinated work-out outfit perfectly setting off the apricot color of her skin. She always smells like vanilla. I don’t mean this to be a criticism of her by any means, in fact it’s the opposite. I totally admire her workout ethic and would love to have her creme brulee coloring. She is definitely someone to emulate during workouts, too. She has great form and always takes the heaviest weights and the hardest option. I totally admire that. She seems like a super cool girl and I’m sure her life is perfect. 😉

ANYWAY- she passed me up and my competitive streak kicked in BUT I held back. My pace was slow, true, but it felt sustainable at least until the half way point when I would give myself permission to stop. When running in the past I do remember times when my pace would kick in and and I felt like I could go forever, and something of that sort was happening early on in this particular run and I didn’t want to mess it up by trying to win a race that wasn’t really a race. So I let her float by me on her glittering, vanilla scented cloud as she snapped her gum and chatted with her girlfriends. I focused on the next distance goal and forgot about her.

Ten minutes minutes later, I passed her. Whaaat??? Yep, she had slowed to a walk and was cruising along, still not sweating, still chatting, still chewing gum. I chugged on by her, still slow and steady as I approached the half-way point. It was then that it occurred to me that I could do this, that I could finish the run without walking as long as I kept to my pace. I rounded the half -way point and started the downhill return to the finish line.

There was a trainer up ahead passing out high fives – I made him my next distance goal. Right before I got to him, the vanilla girl ran past me and high-fived him first, blocking my chance for a high five and words of encouragement unless I wanted to circle back (obviously not), so I kept going and watched her hair bounce in front of me for a few more minutes. Then, once more, she stopped running and started walking. Again, I chugged by her (chug really does describe my running that day; there was nothing lithe about it) only this time I turned to smile at her and said “Hi” as i passed.

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K.V.Switzer in the middle = stylish runner. I looked more like the guy on the left.

The finish line arose like a mirage at the end of a long down-hill stretch. I was going to make it! Holy shit! People were lining the side of road and cheering everyone on the last few hundred yards. I was by myself, totally focused on the fact that I was still moving, not sure if I could stop moving and slightly concerned about what my body would feel like IF I stopped moving. I could see the main trainer at the finish line, bouncing up and down, armed with high fives, booty slaps, hugs and cheers – I focused on her and started to smile.

Sure enough, right before I got to her, vanilla girl comes cruising by me as if she’d been sprinting the entire race. The trainers all know her name and were shouting it out with lots of whoops and whistles. She smiled and waved like a prom queen, still chewing gum, still not sweating as I rolled up behind her beet red, but happy. The main trainer, Jenny, saw me, gave me a huge hug and ran the last few steps with me, which made all the difference; to be recognized in that moment of a huge physical achievement shoved the cloud of self-doubt right out of my personal sky. She knew, when I didn’t, that I could do this run. WHAT ELSE DOES SHE KNOW ABOUT ME THAT I NEED TO KNOW?

Words of wisdom at the end of all this? I honestly didn’t think I could run a 5k. But I could. I can. If I apply that concept to the rest of my life, to those places where I stop myself everyday because I know I won’t be the fastest or win first place or be the best…

I’ll stop before I start sounding like something printed on an inspirational coffee mug.

Onward.

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