When I tell people I run marathons, most of them ask, incredulously, “have you ALWAYS been a runner?”
Well, yes and no.
I remember when I first felt the rush of an all-out run.
It was on an elementary school playground in Texas. Me, two wild blonde pigtails flying, stripped down to the shorts I always wore underneath my skirts so I could “practice” gymnastics on the metal monkey bars that have long since been banned, and a group of older boys soon left in my dust.
I was seven. The ultimate tomboy. I was the last girl (and boy) standing in chicken fights. I couldn’t ride a bike, but I could hurl myself off a vault and do back walkovers on a balance beam. I climbed trees and scraped my knees. I held my breath to swim both lengths of the swimming pool. All of my friends were boys, and I could outrun, out climb, out muscle, and outwit all of them, blood and scratches and mud be damned.
Looking back on it now, it’s hard to recall a time when I was so carefree about physical activity.
Because a few years after outrunning boys on the playground, I was diagnosed with asthma. Not the occasionally needs an inhaler to exercise kind of asthma, but the kind where something simple–a cold day, a whiff of cigarette smoke, a hayride–could send me to the hospital.
While I kept up with gymnastics, swimming, and even cheerleading for a while, I eventually abandoned athletics. My asthma was unpredictable. I would be fine one day, and then wheeze just sitting down the next. I had more drugs in my medicine cabinet than a senior citizen. I had notes to get out of gym class. Running scared me. It made me feel panicky and out of control.
I eventually tried running a bit in college, but never made it more than few minutes without wheezing and stopping. I took it up again in graduate school and was pleased when I ran my first 5K without walking, a very respectable 10 minute mile.
A few 5Ks and 10Ks followed, but never anything faster than a 10 minute mile.
I progressed to half marathons and even marathons. My times got faster and faster. Eventually, I was running 7:xx minute miles for every distance, save the marathon.
I trained hard. I ran hard–but never quite hard enough.
Because I was too focused on being COMFORTABLE.
Yes, to most, 26.2 miles or a sub 22 minute 5K is not comfortable.
But I always was. And if it hurt, if I started to get out of breath, I couldn’t handle it. At all. I fell apart mentally. Immediately. I panicked. I gave up.
Even as recently as a few months ago, I would have said I would rather finish a race strong with a slight PR knowing I had another thirty to sixty seconds in the bank than fall apart early, gasping for breath, panicky, out of control.
Because running hard–running up against V02 max–feels EXACTLY like an asthma attack. And all I can think about when I start breathing heavily is ambulance lights and rescue inhalers and the look on my mother’s face when my lips turn blue.
Never mind the fact I haven’t had an asthma attack in almost seven years. That BECAUSE of distance running, I’m down to only one allergy pill and a rescue inhaler and can no longer stock my own pharmacy.
Yet I’m still running scared.
But something clicked for me on my run today.
COMFORTABLE won’t get me anywhere.
There is no greatness, no risk in comfortable.
Sure, comfortable is the safe and easy option, but where will it get me?
I think I’m finally ready.
To embrace the risk of the unknown.
To get uncomfortable.
To find out where I can push myself if I just LET GO.