Originally posted 4.20.17
Earlier this school year I drafted a letter about running but I never sent it. Something else came up and it didn’t make sense the following week. Then the weather turned and I wasn’t running because running is bad enough—running in snow with multiple layers of clothes seems even worse. Now that the weather is nice, I’ve started running again. I am rusty and weak and dragging. Even changing into my running clothes (no multiple layers—just a shirt and pants/shorts) seems like a lot of effort and I have to psych myself into it. Yet I’m doing it. What I share below is the first reason I’m doing it. Next week I’ll tell you the second (and maybe more important) reason why.
So this summer I downloaded the app Couch to 5K onto my phone so that I could start running. It’s not that I have ambitions of entering a 5K, but I wanted to push my body in a way that I felt I had done with my brain. I wanted to embrace a growth mindset about my physical abilities in a way that I have never done before.
From my earliest age I wanted to be a ballerina. I started dancing when I was 2 or 3 and I have memories of leaping across a gym. My mom saved my first pair of ballet shoes (which I still have) and this was a part of my identity. When I was 10 I moved to a small town (Arkport, NY) in the Southern Tier and enrolled in a new dance class there. Around the same time, I auditioned for a part in the school play and got the lead. This was the beginning of my adolescence and, for the first time, I began to feel uncomfortable in a leotard. I stopped wanting to be a ballerina and then wanted to be an actress. Never again in my life did I consider myself coordinated, athletic, or graceful. My mindset about my body and what I was capable of physically became fixed. I didn’t dance at school dances. I barely danced at my own wedding. I faked an asthma attack when we had a run a mile in school. I did join the Volleyball Team my junior year of high school so I could have a sport to put on my college application, but I was just fine sitting the bench. In short, I saw myself as the antithesis of athletic.
Years later, when Oprah was on, she used to talk about having a plan in case something ever happened to you. She’d talk about how people with a ready plan were able to execute the plan without forethought in times of an emergency. That made sense to me. I decided that if someone were to chase me I would just play dead because there was no way that I would outrun them anyway. I was serious.
The idea of running something like a marathon is to me something as mythical as a unicorn. Okay, I understand that people really do run marathons and that unicorns don’t really exist, but the idea of running even a mile for me is other-worldly.
Or at least it was. On June 25th, 4 days after my birthday and 3 days after I installed the app, using my new app I went for my first run ever as an adult. Because this was the first time I’d used the app, I wasn’t aware that I was able to see how many intervals of running I would have to do before I started. Thus, at the sixth interval of running for 1 minute (followed by 90 seconds of walking), I gave up and just started walking. I ran for the 7th interval of running and walked through the 8th. Had I realized that the 8th was the last interval I may have kept running, but it’s hard to tell. I am telling this to you because I want to show you what my baseline was—and it wasn’t good. Nevertheless, I continued. Between June 25th and July 2nd (one week) I ran every day but one. I did the same thing the following week. I did this even when I went to my mom’s house on the 2nd and even when the kids were at my mom’s and Howard and I went out to dinner nearly every night the next week. Lest you think that I found my proverbial stride or that I was some new convert that found my runner’s high and couldn’t get enough, there is not a day when I run that I think , “This is great!” I don’t. There is not a day when I run where I think., “Where have you been all my life?!” I don’t. I think, “I hate running.” I think, “Just get to that mailbox and you’ll have made it.” I think, “This sucks.” And, I do it anyway. I do it because I’ve been given a body with legs that work and lungs that work and knees, and hips, and feet, and there is no reason why I can’t do this. I do it because not doing it is the easy way out. I do it because I can.
This is not the last you’ll hear from me about my running. This is not because I’m running a 5K yet (according to my app, I should have been at that point by the end of September). In later letters I’ll get into some reasons why I’m still working towards this goal. For now, I want to overtly express the two reasons why I’m sharing this information about myself. The first is that I am engaging in an Ulysses Contract, which is just a fancy way of saying that by telling someone about what you want to do you are more likely to actually do it. Thus, by telling you that I’m running now, you are likely to ask me about how it’s going which causes me to feel pressure to follow-through so I can talk about it when you ask. The second reason I’m sharing this is because this process has been symbolic for me on many levels, not the least of which is the piece about growth and fixed mindset. I have spent my whole life saying that I am not a runner and even though I could run over 2 miles without stopping by last fall, I am still struggling with the idea of calling myself a runner. I’m wondering for you if there are areas of your life—personal or professional—that you have had a fixed mindset that you have or would be interested in changing?
Finally, I want to say that I am not a poster child for a growth mindset, for running, or for trying something new. What I am is someone who is willing to share my journey and I hope that you are too!