Before a few years ago, I was always floored by the people who could casually mention, “Oh, I’m going out on a run.” I couldn’t imagine how someone would voluntarily put one foot in front of the other in rapid succession, purposefully increase their heart rate, and deliberately engage in such a painful activity.
I’ve never identified with the runners who share their running successes in high school or college. Those who loved running from the start confused and intimidated me. These mixed feelings pool into the roots of my running journey, and the roots run deep.
Most kids in the public school system are subject to the Presidential Physical Fitness test. For some, this is a source of pride, and for others these days in P.E. can be humiliating. Especially the mile.
For me, this meant my classmates boarding a school bus to the track at Graceland University and preparing to run four laps around the track. It was painful. I was lapped by my classmates at least once. I don’t remember my time, but I know it wasn’t great.
These are all typical expected outcomes for your standard non-athletic teenager. No one expected much out of me, and I didn’t expect much from myself either. With these low expectations, how could anyone be disappointed?
I played volleyball for two years in middle school, and I really don’t know why. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about the experience. With practice, I never seemed to improve. Being on the same team as athletic superstars only made my less-than-stellar skills stand out. My second year, the only game my team won was the game I didn’t play (you do the math).
Then there was the year I ran track and field in middle school. My best friend signed up with me, but ditched me after a day or two of practice. I’d like to give her a hard time about this, but she continued to pursue and excel at sports. And I didn’t.
I didn’t have the courage to quit. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my coach that I knew I was no good and that the team would be better off without me. We’d both have appreciated it, but I was too afraid of the confrontation.
I threw discus and shot put (more like tossed), ran the 100 meter dash, and once I ran the 200 meters. No one dared to put me on a relay team, and I never asked. I never placed in any heat in any event. At the end of the season, when all the school was assembled in the gym for awards, my coach called me from the bleachers to join her on the floor.
She put her arm around me, and said, “Rose never gave up. She always tried her best and I just really appreciate her being on the team.” I was so humiliated. It was the verbal participation trophy no one really wants, especially in front of the whole school.
Looking back, I’m still humiliated, but not as badly. My coach was right. I never gave up, and I really did try my best. My best wasn’t great, but it’s what I had.
One practice, my coach had me run a mile – four laps around the track. My goal was to run the entire thing without walking. I don’t even know if she had a goal, and probably wanted to occupy me until the end of practice.
I counted down each miserable lap after the next. When I finished my final lap, I looked up at my coach for approval. “I didn’t stop!” I panted, and she patted me on the back. She was proud in her way.
Until a few years ago, I never pursued any sport seriously after middle school. I had brief encounters with stair climbers, ellipticals, and yoga classes the first few years in college, but nothing stuck. It was all painful. It was all too hard.
But damn! I was still so impressed with runners. They loved to share how much they loved running. What in the world? How could someone love running? I’m embarrassed to admit that I Googled “how to love running,” more than once. I wanted in.
College was a rough time, and that’s another story for another time. I tried to find some peace through exercise. One evening I hopped on the treadmill, determined to run a mile straight. I think it took me fourteen minutes. After, I had the same feeling I did when I was in middle school running that mile straight in practice.
I texted my boyfriend (now husband) about my accomplishment. “I’m so proud of you!” he told me, and I was proud of myself too.
Since then, my relationship with running has been a nonlinear journey. Mostly, though, it has been an upward trajectory. If I had to visualize it for you, it’d be like the elevation profile of your least favorite race. Up. Down. Some flats. Up again. Descents for days.
Three years ago I finished my first 5k, and I’m on track to run my first 50k in May. Who expected that I’d even finish a 5k in my lifetime? Not me, and certainly no one else.
Shalane Flanagan says, “A setback is just a setup for a comeback.” For those who were never ahead enough for a setback in the first place, low expectations are the perfect setup for blowing everyone around you away. But what’s more important, is that you blow yourself away.
You’re the only person you need to impress.