I stopped running cross country my senior year of high school because I let my race anxiety get the best of me. My nerves would completely debilitate me for days leading up to a race (and sometimes even a workout). I wouldn’t sleep for days before a race. I loved the sport — but I hated what I let it do to me. So I quit.
I didn’t keep running, either. I went away to college and decided I just wanted to be “normal” (what that means, I still don’t know). I never completely let go of my identity as a runner – but truth be told I didn’t lace up my running shoes for the better part of the next 7 years.
Finally I did something my mom would say (at the time) was reckless. I committed to running a marathon during my final semester of law school — all while planning my wedding, moving home from law school, studying for (and taking the bar exam), and looking for (and starting) a new job in a new city. Not only did I commit to the marathon — I committed to it even though at the time I struggled to even run a mile. The idea was not a bad one but the timing was all wrong. But once I got the idea in my head I was determined to make it happen.
It may have been a reckless choice at the time – but it was in some ways a controlled recklessness. It was a decision that was so far out of my comfort zone at the time that it placed me on an entirely new trajectory (or put me back on the trajectory that I had long ago veered away from). Countless miles later, that person I was during those years away from running seems like an entirely different self. Had I not made that one “reckless” choice to run a marathon at the worst possible time I’m not sure when, if ever, I would have found running again. All because I decided to do something outside of my comfort zone. No ruminating. No deciding or weighing pros and cons. Just doing.
My commitment to myself in 2018 is to do more things that scare me. Because outside of the comfort zone is where the magic can happen. However, I have had to retrain myself to recognize that doing scary things doesn’t always mean that it has to be some grand action. When I was starting to think about goals for 2018 I started to feel stuck. I had taken the marathon off the table (at least until fall) and was undecided on what to do next. My initial reaction was that I needed to do something “big” or “crazy” or whatever I decided on wouldn’t be significant. However, where I settled on was quite the opposite. I decided I wanted to try and race — really race — shorter distances for PRs. At first I shed away from the idea because I was stuck in the mindset that “of course I can run 3.1 (or 6.2 or 13.1) miles so where’s the challenge. But then I realized the challenge was not in the distance – but in the actual racing itself.
Then the more I started to think about it, the more I started liking the idea. To date, I have run more marathons than any other distance. As a result, I don’t feel that my PRs in any distance other than the marathon ever truly reflected my fitness (let alone my potential). My half marathon PR was coming off of a 70 mile week on a hot and humid day. My 5k PR was during an 8k race (where my 8K mile split actually ended up faster than my 5k split during that race). My 10k PR was after I had hip surgery and hadn’t run a speed workout in two years. While my efforts on those days were certainly hard – none of those races were races I properly trained for.
Racing scares me. So the only reasonable solution is to do more of them. Because if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.
So this spring, I am going to be racing up my lacing shoes and trying my hand at every distance between the 5k and the half marathon. First, I’m going to see what I’ve got. Then, I’m going to get better.