Post by Susan Lacke.
I got an e-mail from my friend Jess a little while ago:
Jess was two weeks away from her first half-marathon. In spite of all her training, she was nervous and feeling like maybe the whole thing was just a bad idea. 13.1 miles is pretty scary, after all.
I smiled when I read her e-mail.
Yes, you read that right: I SMILED. I assure you, I’m not a bad friend. I wasn’t being smug. I smiled because I knew exactly what she was going through.
A week before my first marathon, I shot up from a deep slumber. It had finally hit me that I was about to put my body through an intense fight with 26.2 miles, a distance I had never raced before. I got out of bed and went for my training run, only to experience anxiety and fatigue. I hit the wall very, very early in what was supposed to be an easy 6-mile jog.
I walked home, sat down at my computer and typed an e-mail to my friends: “Today, I hate running.”
The responses I got from my friends, most of whom had raced longer distances, were invaluable. Each had their own way of reassuring me I could do it. Some were inspiring, others humorous.
One person used reverse psychology on me, telling me maybe I was right: Maybe I COULDN’T do it. It worked—I responded, “You know what? I’ll show you. I’m gonna OWN this marathon.”
Bart Yasso recently said, “As runners, we each have a duty to accept the role as mentor to a slower runner, new runner or someone who doesn’t think he or she can walk around the block.” Truer words have never been spoken. I never would have started running had I not been exposed to great friends who inspired me. I never would have kept running had I not been able to ask those friends the most random and awkward questions about running (“Is it normal for my toenail to be black?” “What the hell is a Fartlek? Please tell me it doesn’t involve Beano…”)
Most importantly, I never would have had the drive to keep going had my friends not celebrated my victories along the way. If I ran a 5K, my friends who have finished Ironman triathlons could have laughed and said, “Aww, 3.1 miles. That’s so cute.” But they didn’t. Instead, I got high fives and genuine empathy when I shared how HARD those 3.1 miles felt.
My friends never tried to one-up me and tell me I didn’t know pain until I tried to run 13.1, 26.2, or 50 miles. They didn’t compare my 10-minute miles to their own 7:30 splits. They simply celebrated my accomplishment with me. I was suddenly a part of this community of athletes, and that felt incredible. It’s because of this feeling of community that I was motivated to do more, to improve. The mentors I had made me feel like I could do anything, so long as I was willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort.
No matter what skill level you’ve attained in your activities, you are an ambassador for your sport. When people discover that you run, do yoga, or lift weights, they’ll automatically and indefinitely associate you as a resource in that activity—even if you don’t think you’re deserving of that status. If they’re thinking about taking up your sport, your attitude may serve as a tipping point for whether they actually begin. Your responses to their random and awkward questions will determine if they stick with the sport.
And for the love of all things Yasso, please…celebrate the victories of each person, no matter how small they seem in comparison to your own accomplishments. To that person, running a mile without stopping might be the coolest thing they’ve ever experienced. You should be honored they chose to share their elation with you!
Passion is contagious. If you have an enthusiasm for what you do, there will be people who can’t wait to follow in your footsteps.
After I had been running for a little while and sharing how much I was thoroughly enjoying it, I was asked by my friend Donnell about what kind of races I had been doing:
“5K?” He guffawed. “ That’s nothing! We used to do at least that every day in the Marine Corps!”
That era, for him, had ended 10 years ago. I called him out, challenging him to run with me. It’d be fun, I suggested. He accepted, though he quickly discovered running was not the same for him as it was when he was in the Marine Corps. Our friend Doug saw what we were up to, and quickly joined us.
The summer we spent running 5Ks together was one of the most fun times of my life. Over post-race beers, I fielded those same awkward questions I once had for my own running friends, celebrated my friends’ accomplishments, and suggested training tips that had worked for me in the past. I slowly was changing from a newbie runner to a mentor.
So, when Jess e-mailed me to tell me “Today, I hate running,” I smiled. I knew things had come full circle. I was able to share with her the same things my friends shared with me when I had the same feelings of fear and apprehension about long-distance running.
Jess completed her first half-marathon, and just as I assured her she would, she completely, totally, and undeniably rocked it. Running has found a new ambassador to join its ranks. I’ll be going back to Wisconsin over Memorial Day Weekend to run Doug’s first half-marathon with him, as a show of support for my friend’s awesome accomplishment. I couldn’t be more proud of either of them.
One day, when one of them gets an email from a newbie runner that begins “Today, I hate running,” I know they’ll smile, too.
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