What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Last year, I was asked to run the Berlin Half Marathon. This request was complicated by a number of factors. Firstly, the distance seemed wholly unattainable for someone like me. I like heels, cake and (free) white wine. I don't like to sweat. I had long decided I would only exercise in order to accommodate my cake habit. If the sad day arrived when I’d eaten so much cake it rendered me immobile, I'd begin regularly exercising in order to able to move and eat more cake.
So, my instinct was to say no. But I was in need of a challenge. My job made me miserable; I was losing an IQ point every additional day spent there. My life was in a state of inertia. I needed to shake things up. I agreed to run the half marathon, unsure of how I’d make it through 0.1 miles let alone 13.1 miles.
Most of my friends had a similar reaction upon hearing the news. “Marathon? You? Are there Louboutins at the finish line? Are you being bribed? Blackmailed? Has the real you been kidnapped?” They couldn’t get their head around it. The guy I was dating at the time simply smiled and said, “You can do anything babe, I’m rooting for you.” However, it was a, “This bitch is obviously crazier than I thought,” smile.
My family has a clan mentality -- when anyone makes a decision, we root them and will for them to win. They were nothing but supportive, although my mother did say the time training for the run would be better spent looking for a husband. I reassured her that there’d be plenty of eligible fit men at the race. She seemed semi-satisfied by my response.
I don’t like being doubted or told I can’t do something, so the choruses of, “Are you sure you’ll finish?” made me determined to at least attempt to run the half-marathon, even if I hobbled to the finish line.
My first few training runs felt like what I imagine a heart attack while your legs are being humped by a sumo wrestler must feel like. They were horrendous. There comes a point in most runs when you think, “Why am I doing this?” At that point the convenient thing to do is retreat and go home. As I did many times, where I rewarded myself with a glass of white wine for my efforts.
But eventually, I was at the point of no return. The date of the half marathon was nearing. Announcing my intention to run on every social network I was a citizen of meant the potential embarrassment of flying to Berlin and not completing the race outweighed the pain of training.
As I trained harder, I began to run further and faster. My feelings of diffidence and discomfort hadn’t vanished. However they were peppered with powerful moments of peace and clarity. When I no longer felt like I was running but flying. It felt so natural, as if I was born to run. I know, I know it sounds a bit weird and borderline mystical, but those brief moments of peace were what stopped me from giving up and helped me cross the finish line in Berlin.
Then something strange happened. I came home and kept running.
This was not according to the plan. The plan was to complete the half marathon, enjoy the fact that running had made my stomach look flatter (which made my non-existent tits look kind of existent), and go back to my old life. A life void of exercise, because I wasn’t the exercise “type.”
The thing was even though I still didn’t enjoy running and it didn’t fit with my myopic self-image, it was making my life quantifiably better. I was fitter, stronger, more driven and had found something I believed I’d forever lost, my vision.
It took pushing myself to my physical limit to see the limits I was placing on myself in my daily life. You see, it's really hard to get up at dawn, run for 5 miles and go on to tolerate bullshit from anyone for the rest of the day. Allow me to give you an example.
Historically, tact hasn’t been my strongest point, and frankness without tact is a recipe for conflict. Consequently, someone always seemed to be offended by the nature in which I voiced my opinion. And since I have a tendency to be slightly (okay, very) extreme, I decided I had enough of the conflict that surrounded my views -- I would say nothing at all.
Of course, the rational thing to do would be to learn how to be tactful! Instead I went about 18 months conducting friendship and business relationships under the “always bite your tongue” mantra. Which seems incongruent seeing as I’m so opinionated, but I did just that. If something bothered me, I would push it to the side in the name of keeping the peace.
However I wasn’t keeping the peace, all I was doing was repressing things and causing friction in my relationships. I was tolerating the intolerable (dishonesty, inconsistency, behind-my-back-bitching) in the name of “peace.” After an angry run where I was trying to run through an issue, I decided I’d had enough of trying to run through the same issue and I would need to fix it. I decided I would revert to being honest and saying what was on my heart, but I’d pick my moments, broach subjects sensitively and -- as cheesy as it sounds -- make sure my approach was a loving rather than a hard one.
This new way of approaching things meant I had to pull from a part of myself I didn’t even know existed. And when you begin to demand more of yourself, you demand more of others. The demands don’t come from an egotistical place. I’ve discovered running is egotism’s kryptonite. When you run just to run, it requires sacrifice, honesty, discipline and tenacity. There are many virtues fostered while running, but none of them are conducive to the survival of the ego or the parts of you that hold you back.
Running is far from a panacea, but, good grief, it helps. I used to run from my problems; now I run through them. I’m finally letting go of this neurosis thing that I’ve worn like a precious coat. It took running to help me see that my perfectionism wasn’t a good thing -- it was simply a glorified form of emotional self-harming. Plus I’ve quit all my pseudo-relationships with inconsistent emotionally unavailable scumbags masquerading as men.
Those who have had the misfortune of watching me run will feel a smorgasbord of emotions. Worry, repulsion, fear and finally acceptance. My gait is poor, my strides are clunky and my arms move inelegantly with no real purpose but to accent my overall awkwardness. But it takes a certain audacity to publicly run awfully. This audacity is not germane to women like me. Just like I’ve discovered there’s actually no running or athletic type, there isn’t an audacious type. We’ve all got it, the audacity to do the things no one believes we can, we’ve just got to unearth it.
So, if you’ve hit a lull, are unsure of what to do next, are in a relationship you don’t want to be in but can’t walk away from, are in a job that makes you miserable, are convinced you “can’t” run or are afraid “they’ll” laugh -- go on a run. Don’t worry, you can run. Just dare to. Run through your problems, towards your dreams and you may just run into the woman you want to be. It’s working for me, and the best thing is I haven’t had to give up cake.