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I'm Not a Natural Born Runner

I’ve been putting off this week’s blog all day seeing as I didn’t feel overly compelled to write about any one thing in particular. I could write about this or that but a lot of the topics I was drawn to cover seemed too similar to things I had recently explored. But then I went on a run through Central Park and as per always, something about sweating and hating myself for going down another hill that I had to come back up gave me a spark of an idea. That is what you are about to read.

As many loyal TSP blog followers or personal friends know, I began to take running seriously the summer before I entered middle school. My older brother would stand in our driveway and help me do time trials for my mile. I would take tips from him (four years older and a cross country runner himself), eager to drink lots of water to stay hydrated and stretch properly so I wouldn’t get hurt. I wasn’t one of those kids who had been playing soccer since she was 3 or dancing since she could walk (tried dance; hated dance; sorry Mom). But I liked to run. And I worked hard at it so that when the season came around, not only did I meet my best friends, but I was also able to contribute and score for my team. Thus began my love affair with distance running.

I ran cross country, indoor track, and track all through high school and I even started my first-year of college with cross country pre-season, my annual August tradition. However, as most readers know, I hit a health set back at the end of my sophomore year at university that took me out of pretty much everything—especially physically taxing tasks like long distance running. Fortunately, after visiting countless doctors and conducting many tests, I was put on a medication that fixed most of my symptoms. I started to feel like myself again. More importantly, I was able to get back to the things that mattered, putting my energy not into day to day living but into chasing down life. It was amazing.

But there was a competitor I hadn’t caught yet and that was the 12-year-old version of myself running time trials in her back yard. I missed competing and I missed running and I missed that feeling of pure exhaustion after a really tough work out.

So I began to walk again…short distances at first with my loyal dog by my side. Then it was farther. Then it was faster. Pretty soon I had my floppy eared companion looking at me like I was crazy as we charged up the last hill home. Things were falling into place.

I came home after college graduation for two weeks and did some form of “working out” every day—even the lighter days found me with a leash in my hand and an overzealous pup at my heels. Then, when I left for Europe and the adventures that followed, that slipped to the sidelines. Suddenly it was February and an entire month of sedentary lifestyle had passed in the blink of an eye.

That’s not ideal.

That’s why when my alarm went off at 7.11 this morning (I’ll write a post about that one day) I was ready to go. I texted my friend: “I’m going to go to Central Park to run…or at least to walk fast.”

Something about being out of it for a while made me nervous. Other factors may include the fact that everyone I see running at Central Park always looks fit and fabulous. Alas, I locked the door behind me and walked over.

That was a lot of introduction and I’m still not even at the good stuff. Stay with me.

I was at a trail I’ve now dubbed “Great Hill Loop” because it stems from the Great Hill section of the park and basically involved me running a circle at the top track of this hill before taking one of the side branches down—all the way down—and then running back up and repeating with the next downhill—where ever it may lead. I started with a run up the stairs to the top of the hill and was immediately wondering why running killed your air supply so quickly. But there I was, running again.

I had started in a run and before I knew it I was 25 minutes in. (My plans to ease into things never really work). However I was also 25 minutes in and really regretting going down a three hill series. I was somewhere around the 2nd hill fighting my way to the top and cursing myself for this last hill that I was certain would be the death of me. I was grasping at motivation in my mind trying to find some way to twist words into something that could give me the push I needed. I thought of all the motivational speeches I had studied and watched and the books I had read on the art of inspiration and the only thing I could come up with was:

C’mon Liz, you were gifted with the talent of running—

which was quickly cut off with

No you weren’t.

which sounds counteractive until my mind seamlessly jumped to this next line:

You were blessed with the gift of spirit.

I could feel the spring return to my tired step.

You aren’t naturally built like a runner. You never made a good runner because of anything in your genes. You were a good runner because you worked hard.

And I was moving a little quicker now.

You were a good runner because even during the hardest work outs you never gave up.

It didn’t even seem like a hill anymore.

You were a good runner because at age 16 you were running 10 mile days with your best friend and topping it off with a 1 mile race “just for fun.”

I’m pretty sure at this point I was laughing to myself.

You were a good runner because you were given a spirit that couldn’t be contained.

I was at the top of the hill.

You weren’t naturally made to be a runner. You were made to be someone who doesn’t give up.

I began cooling down around the circular track at the top of the hill and thought a lot about what this past month of low-physical activity had looked like. It was suddenly so much bigger than my running log.

I don’t have it in me to be the next Steve Prefontaine—instead I’ll stick to making scrapbooks about his life for middle school class assignments (this exists and it’s awesome). But I do, apparently, have it in me to move to New York City without a job, an apartment, or a plan and make it work. Because somehow in that crazy cosmic mix I was given a little too much fortitude and a little too much persistence and way too much stubbornness.

My college roommate always talked about the human spirit and how we never really know what we are capable of until we are put in situations that challenge us and force us to grow. January was one of the most uncertain, scary, and completely impulsive months of my life. January was also one of the most growing, dynamic, and exciting times I’ve experienced. It took me from the literal highs of the Alps to the lows of feeling completely lost in the biggest city in America. I’m starting to understand this whole spirit thing.

I think at the end of the day, today’s workout wasn’t designed to be about breaking the barrier and sliding into running shoes again. It wasn’t supposed to be about exhausting myself or the feeling of soreness that has already settled over my calves (but that could also be from living on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator).

I think today was about that one little spark in my mind that reminded me that nobody can be a natural at everything, but if we work hard and refuse to give up, our resilience can give us the strength for anything.

Love always,

Liz

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