Jan. 14th, 2013

bricks_and_bones: (jello)
I found myself pondering this question this morning, because I wasn't always a runner. I have always been a woodsy/outdoorsy person. I grew up in a small rural town with a huge woodlot as my backyard, and my family was into things like camping and taking walks in the woods together. We've done roadtrips together to most of the National Parks as well. (My favorite is probably Zion park in Utah.) In my early 20s I took a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course through Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities, and I enjoyed that very much. At the time I wanted jobs leading wilderness hikes and running outdoor recreation programs. I was suited for it, but unfortunately it was just at this time that I started experiencing serious anxiety issues. This prevented me from pursuing that goal -- I wasn't ready for a big move alone across the country, which was what working in that industry would involve.

While I loved hiking and backpacking and had been on cross-country skis since age 3, I had *always hated running*. I blame P.E. classes at school where we would show up and be asked to run a mile for our physical fitness test. While I loved high school for the most part, I dreaded that class so much. I would always be able to hang in for about a half mile and then have to walk the rest, failing the test every time.

My gym teacher never spoke to me about my failures. She would just tick off my name, writing me off with the rest of the kids who couldn't pass the test. I was not one of her favorites because I was not a star athlete. She had no expectations of me because of how I looked (awkward, not-athletic) and because I was a relatively quiet kid, not one of the attention-seeking jocks. I think she said about four words to me over the course of four years in that school. Part of that attitude of "writing off nonathletes" at my high school probably came in part from the fact that my school was nationally and internationally known for its ice hockey team, and was extremely competitive in other sports. The kids on those sports teams became the ones that "mattered" in athletics; the rest of us just had to shuffle through.

While I was expected to run a mile in those gym classes, no one had ever taught me how to run or to condition myself for running. There was absolutely no time spent on preparing us for that stupid test, mentally or physically. It was like being given an algebra test but never actually being taught algebra. I just assumed I COULDN'T run and was a *bad runner.* And while no one ever said those words to me directly, there was plenty of reinforcement of those beliefs from my gym teacher and other students. It's too bad I carried that self perception for so many years and missed out on running. Little did I know that a person can LEARN to run, and that many runners are made, not born.

Dan helped me to realize this years later. When I told him I wanted to try running he actually taught me HOW -- giving me a program that was very similar to the Couch to 5k program. He gave me advice built on years of experience and was (and still is) always there to encourage me. The funny thing is, giving someone the basics on how to run doesn't take a ton of time and effort. After being properly taught how to condition for running mentally and physically, I've come to see it as something pleasurable. It works so well with my personality. I like setting goals, leveling up on skills, accomplishing things. I like learning new things, and running is a constant trial-and-error path of discovery and learning about oneself and the world.

Dan initially encouraged me to run trails, but I was so new to the sport that my comfort level was roads and sidewalks. I was obsessive about measuring mileage because I wanted to run my first marathon that fall. (CRAZY. I realize that now!) My first road race was a local 5k and I was SO NERVOUS beforehand!! Looking back, I am not sure what I was nervous about -- maybe I was afraid I would not be able to finish, or more probably it was because I still didn't think of myself as a "runner" and was remembering back to those failed tests in high school.

That was about 12 years ago or so. Now I won't run roads at all, and definitely no road races! They are just not my thing, physically or mentally. I no longer own a pair of road shoes. I don't judge road running/racing as good or bad, I simply don't enjoy doing it. Trail races/running on the other hand get me completely fired up. I feel like I've found my "home" when it comes to movement. (Hiking and snowshoeing are also awesome, as is simply taking a walk in the woods. I love all these things.) A big part of it for me is not just my love of the outdoors, but feeling like I broke out of a box someone put me in years ago. Maybe *I* was complicit in the box-putting-in too, I don't know.

But one reason I support anyone trying out a new and potentially "scary" form of movement -- whether it is running, swimming, hiking, walking, etc. -- is that it can be an amazing process of self-discovery at any level or ability. One of the most VALUABLE things I've taken from this journey is that my body is CAPABLE of amazing things. So often we are told that our bodies are imperfect and lacking. This is what all the advertisements we're hit with daily are based on, really. Accomplishing goals in movement has helped me to realize that I am in fact whole, amazing, complete, resourceful, and capable of far more than I might have ever believed about myself. We only have to be what we are, and running can be a process of uncovering just that.

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Bricks and Bones

December 2013

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