I’ve been on a reading binge lately. I received two books about running for my birthday last week, and I’ve already consumed them both. We had beautiful weather Saturday and Sunday, and I loved sitting outside with Pup, soaking up some sun and reading a good book. I was having so much fun I didn’t realize that I’d gotten a little too much sun; guess that’s what happens when you haven’t seen the sun since 2013!
The first book I finished was Running Like a Girl – Notes on Learning to Run by Alexandra Heminsley. Heminsley was in her thirties when she decided to run her first marathon. She details embarking on this journey, and then she takes us through her relationship with running since then…including all the highs and lows.
Heminsley isn’t afraid to talk about the self-doubt that can accompany the running of long distances. Things like – “What if I’m not good enough? I’m not a real runner. What was I thinking, I can’t do this.” I use positive mantras when I run to drive away negative thoughts, but I’m certainly not immune to them and it was eye-opening to read what others have encountered…and what might come to light when I start taking on greater distances with my marathon training. One of my favorite mantras is, “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” While I’m not taking first in any races, I do consider crossing the finish line a personal win!
Like many books on running, Heminsley opens each chapter with a quote related to the sport (I love these quotes…I’m guilty of reading all of them at the start of each chapter before even reading the book…I’m always looking for inspiration in the written world). Heminsley quotes Bill Rodgers, an American runner with numerous Boston and NYC Marathon victories, at the onset of the book –
“Anybody can be a runner. We were meant to move. We were meant to run. It’s the easiest sport.”
I really appreciate this sentiment. Like many runners, it took me a few years (and a handful of half-marathons) to consider myself a real runner. But running feels so good, so natural. Why? Because we were meant to move…to run.
Heminsley had a similar realization when she started to fall in love with running –
“My perspective on exercise shifted. It was no longer about getting fit or reaching aesthetic perfection. Now I was enjoying the thrill of setting goals and sticking to them, of developing the kind of mental discipline only sports could inspire. I saw that competitiveness and sweat needn’t be unfeminine or aggressive qualities. They could be attractive.“
I feel my strongest, boldest and most badass after a run. I feel confident after tackling mileage…like I can take on anything. I probably feel that way because life’s dilemmas feel more manageable after a run. I think this is why running has become a way of life for me. Running is my touchstone. If I’m having a bad day, I go for a run and it gets better. If I’m having a great day, I go for a run and it gets better. I’ve never returned from a run feeling worse than when I set out. Heminsley eloquently makes this point –
“That day in October was the day that taught me so much about why I run. It wasn’t a habit, it was a necessity: the essential realization that I can carry on when I am sure I am about to die; that to survive, I just have to keep going, keeping the faith that I could leave the house almost trembling with trepidation about what lay ahead, and if I could keep myself going, a few minutes, a few lampposts, a few blocks at a time, I would be improving not just my running but how I managed my life.”
Running reminds me to take life one step at a time. It’s easy to get bogged down with the “big picture,” but if we break it up into smaller, manageable steps then there’s no limit to what can be accomplished. Heminsley drives this point home near the end of her book –
“I felt a surge of new awareness: I was a runner for life. No matter what else was going on around me, no matter how long the gaps between my runs, no matter how high, how long, or how fast my races were, I was a runner. Once you have taught yourself that running isn’t about breaking boundaries you thought you could never smash, and realized that it is about discovering those boundaries were never there in the first place, you can apply it to anything.”
I’m learning more and more that we create our own boundaries and limitations…and that once we acknowledge their existence we can move past them…or run past them as the case may be. I know I can run a marathon. I’m confident that with the right training, dedication and sense of humor (after all, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry…or maybe a little of both at times!) that I’ll run 26.2 miles. My take-home lesson from Running Like a Girl is to be confident in and relish my accomplishments and abilities. There will certainly be ups and downs during my marathon journey, but only I decide my limits (or if they exist at all). I’m taking ownership of this experience from Day 1.