Thursday, July 18, 2013

Leaving the World of Mediocrity

As some readers already know, several years ago, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. Mind you, I was extremely overweight (as I still am) and had never been a runner. In junior high school when we had to run the 1-mile each Friday morning, I always came in last. I generally walked at least half of it, and even when I really pushed myself to run the entire mile, I would come in somewhere around 15 minutes. Yes, I'm aware people walk a mile faster than that time, but as I said, I've never been a runner, and I'm still not. But, as I started off sharing, I reached a point in life at which I wanted to run a marathon. Call it a bucket list item, or temporary insanity, but I was trying to lose weight and I thought running might be a great way to exercise; and having a goal in mind - something that was huge to complete at the end of it - seemed like a great idea.

The first time I went out to run I couldn't make it from one street lamp post to the next without stopping to gasp for air. I remember crying right there and thinking that I was an absolute lunatic to think I would ever run a marathon. After all, 26.2 miles is a far cry from one lamp post to the next. I started doing research and found a program that helped me start at my very, very sad starting stage, and even though it took awhile, before too long, I could run an entire mile without stopping. I recall the first time I ran a mile without stopping to walk. I remember starting to choke on tears before I actually even hit the one-mile mark, but I made it to the end without stopping. For runners, this seems sad, I'm sure. Why would running one mile seem like such a victory? Well, look where I started. For me, from what and where I began the journey, it seemed miraculous that I could run one single mile without stopping.

From that first mile, I built stamina to go longer and farther. Ultimately, I did complete the marathon (though I struggled more than anyone should doing such an event, and, I should point out, couldn't actually run the entire distance on race day), but I have never been so proud to have completed a goal. Despite the pride I felt for attaining the goal, I still beat myself up. I knew I could've trained better, ate better, and probably completed the run much faster than I did. After it was over, I didn't know what to do with myself. I'd done what I set out to do (though perhaps I could've done it better), so now what? Within a few months of the race, I had stopped running, and in fact, stopped exercising for the most part. I rode my bike as transportation, but I had no real desire to push myself, so even that didn't feel like true exercise. I convinced myself, however, that I was still exercising because my 8-10 mph bike rides to the store must count for something, right? Plus, I'd hit the gym on occasion (the "occasion" being 1-2 visits a week at most) and walk or do the elliptical for 30 minutes. I hadn't entirely given up... or had I?

Of course, I started putting on weight I had lost, and before I knew it I was larger than when I had started out my marathon training. I had stopped weighing myself because I didn't want to know what the "cruel" scale would tell me. It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen. Pound by pound it all crept on until I was larger than I had ever been in my life. Then, early last year I decided I needed to change and set about a new course of action. I decided I had to take my life back and not blame anyone for my state of being. The first kickboxing class I went to I was still recovering from bronchitis and pneumonia. Five minutes into class, I felt like I might pass out. Everyone seemed so strong around me and able to complete moves so quickly. I had a hard time just picking my legs up. Sure, it could've partially been that my lungs were recovering from illness, but deep down, I knew there was much more than that going on. That memory of trying to run from one lamp post to the next came rushing back to me. I had a choice to either keep going and get through the pain, or never come back again. I chose the former option. A year and a half(ish) later, I'm probably still the slowest person in class, but I'm also stronger than I was the day I started. I don't feel like I'm going to pass out after doing a few jumping jacks or the warm-up jog, and I can make it through class without believing I might actually drop dead right there on the spot.

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to try running again. Not because I thought I needed more exercise, but because I just wanted to see what it would be like to attempt it again after so many years of not. I presumed that I would have to go back to the running program I'd done years prior and would practice a jog/walk combination for a mile or so. To my surprise, I got on the treadmill and ran for 30 minutes without stopping. Huh? Confusion set in quickly. It wasn't fast, and I didn't actually cover much ground mileage-wise (I think it was about 2 miles), but I was confused about how this was possible. I've never been a fast runner (my body is not designed for that particular activity, for sure), and I will never win a running race, but it was a starting point. Unlike my years earlier attempt at running, my lungs weren't burning, and had I not been dealing with a persisting heel issue, I honestly probably could've went even longer.

I've kept up the running somewhat consistently over the last couple of months, choosing to do so 1-2 times a week. Not because I have to, but because I just want to see what I can do. Last week as I was running at our local gym, I noticed a tall, lean woman on the treadmill in front of me, craning her neck to look behind her every few minutes. I didn't think much about it at first, but then I realized that she was looking to see if I was still running. She was trying to motivate herself based on what I was doing! Determined not to let her "beat" me, I remained on the treadmill running and actually outlasted her run. I was both amused by the situation and shocked that I had it in me to keep going. Then, just a couple of days ago, not having the motivation of competition, I completed my longest run since my return to running. I realized just how much I undercut or undervalue myself. It's not even a conscious thing, but I allow myself to stop when I know I could do more, or I go slower when I know I could be faster. I won't be "fast" by most people's standards, but for my own typical pace, I could do more. What am I afraid of? If I can't finish because I've left everything on the table, is that a failure? Not in my book... and if I do complete the task, what an incredible feat!

I started thinking about my upcoming century ride(s) and how it seems so impossible. But, maybe it only seems impossible because that is what I choose to believe. I thought about the many things in life that have seemed unattainable, and yet they happened - not because I sat back and waited to see what would take place, but because I took action - because I chose to work, to put it all out there. Has mediocrity become the new standard of acceptance? Is just getting by or "being number 2" (as in the video clip above) completely okay with myself and much of humanity? I understand that we are not all star athletes, nor will we necessarily be able to do what someone else can do, but shouldn't I always be giving my best? I know that I (and most of us) are able to do so much more than we allow ourselves to believe we are capable of doing. What is it that stops us from giving our all at every task we undertake? Why do we conserve instead of leaving it all on the sidewalk, treadmill, bike, bag, or wherever we choose to work our bodies and our minds?

I am fully aware that I, personally, will never be a superstar athlete, nor will I win records in races of any sort, but I can be the best me. I can leave my workout knowing that I left it all there and had nothing else to give. I can give full effort every time - whether that is better than the day prior or a bit slower than it was the preceding workout. I can stop living in the world of the mediocre, and instead choose to build a strong and capable world for me. I can. I will.

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