one foot in front of the other

I’m not usually big on New Year’s resolutions, but for some reason this past year I kind of went ham. I told myself I had all year to do them and if some got bumped to next year that was okay too. Not only did I make them, I wrote them down, which for me makes them far more real. If they’re just in my head and I don’t put them out there, no one will know if I fail. Once I wrote them down, I knew whether I accomplished them or not that I’d find that piece of paper in its box among the thank you notes and sewing supplies and graduation programs and it would haunt me. And they were big, scary goals. Like, 1) explore other career opportunities, 2) start a blog, 3) run a half marathon.

Running a half has been a theoretical goal of mine for a while. I am not what you would call a natural-born runner. I have pretty short legs, I come from a family of artists and musicians and actors, not athletes, and I don’t think I voluntarily ran a full mile until I was in college (if I didn’t manage to get out of it in high school gym class, you could find me running the straights and walking the curves #ifyouknowyouknow).

I had set out to run a half once before. It was shortly after my dad passed away, and running was one of the ways I coped with that loss. It wasn’t about the goal so much as I was already running all the time anyway and it made sense to take advantage of that. I immediately started over-training and got injured, and in hindsight I think that was a blessing, because I wasn’t running toward my goal, I was running away from my problems, and that’s not how I wanted to accomplish it.

But this year, it felt different. For one thing, my outlook on exercise in general has changed a lot over the past year (more on that later.) For another, I wasn’t running away from anything. My life is far from perfect, but I’m generally happy. So this past April, I took the leap and signed up for the Richmond Half in November, and once I put money into it I knew I was committed.

With tons of time to spare, I had a friend/coach come up with a training plan, and I eased into training. Thirteen miles felt next to impossible, but I tried to focus on each day’s goal and not look past that. I was chugging along for a while, and then at the end of July, I got this weird pain in my foot that would not go away. It took two months of rest/ice/doctors to figure it out, and it felt like during that time that all my hard work was pretty much down the drain. By the time I could run again, I was about six weeks out, and not quite starting at square one but maybe like square two. It was the perfect opportunity to quit, and it took every ounce of resolve that I had not to.

Those six weeks were incredibly challenging. My runs were often slow and felt sloppy. Even though I prioritized running above pretty much anything else, sometimes I missed runs. I had terrible anxiety that I wasn’t going to be able to finish it. The whole process went completely against my “if you can’t do something perfectly don’t do it at all” mentality, which I’ve had pretty much my entire adult life. Running is also the perfect opportunity for comparison to rob you of any feeling of accomplishment because chances are there is someone who is going to be faster and better than you are (in my case those people are friends of mine), and that’s just pure fact. Nevertheless, it may have only been my non-refundable entry fee, but something told me to keep going.

I woke up the day of feeling excited and ready. By my standards, I breezed through the first ten miles. The last three? Um, not so much. Grannies with walkers could probably move faster than I was. An elderly man jogging in a cable-knit sweater straight-up passed me at one point. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, my legs felt like jello, I was hot and cold and the same time, and I had a very persistent cramp in my rib cage. I alternated between “what the heck was I thinking?” and “just keep going.” I won’t even try to describe what it felt like to cross that finish line, because I won’t do it justice, and I also won’t lie and pretend there wasn’t a part of me beating myself up because I thought I could’ve done better. But it was a small part.

It might sound crazy, but of all of the goals I’ve tackled in my life, this was one of the hardest, and maybe the one of which I am most proud. I think it’s because I expected to accomplish the rest of them; even when I was studying for the Bar exam, it didn’t feel like I had a choice. In my mind, I had to pass, and that was that. But this was different — this was something I had all but accepted I would never do, and the option to quit was there at any time. I had to overcome the urge to compare myself to others who were doing it better, and I had to make the choice every day and every step of the way to keep going.

So whatever goal it is that you secretly have and think you can’t do, you might surprise yourself. You’re not going to do it perfectly. It’s probably going to be messy and hard and you’ll want to give up and there will be someone else doing it better. But keep going.

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