It's become my favorite story to tell: the one about the day I came home after a community event where I'd hung out with a fitness addict friend. I told her, proudly, that I'd been doing yoga regularly for the past few weeks. She told me, nonchalantly, that she had just finished her morning run of 6.5 miles. My jaw dropped and to cover my sudden workout inadequacy, I said something along the lines of, "Good for you. I hate running."
That didn't deter this friend at all. "You should do a 5k. I'll run it with you. We'll find a Sunday race and do it."
Of course, my gut reaction was, Ha! No way! Because my idea of an endurance sport is to tread water for an hour-and-a-half while holding my current novel above the water level so I can be entertained while I swim in place (Yes, my one fitness achievement I brag about). But there was another reaction layered beneath that one: You think this is something you cannot do. Therefore, you should do it.
So, I said yes, okay, I'm in, let's do this. And there was that spring in my step on the way home when you have something new and exciting awaiting you and I walked in the door and announced to The Engineer, "I'm going to run a 5K."
Whereupon he burst out in hysterical laughter that continued for the next five minutes.
If I didn't really want to do it before, I definitely wanted to now!
So, I downloaded a 5k training app and set my alarm for early enough that I wouldn't broil to death under the deep-south sun and I got out there. Five minute walk to warm up. Perfect. I can do this. And I listened to my audiobook - the one by the moral psychologist - while I walked. Then, through my headphones came the instruction to run. So I took off in a dead run. 45 seconds and I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn't breathe. Walk, came the soothing voice of my app trainer, and not a moment too soon. I limped forward for another minute before being told to run again, so I pounded the pavement for another 60 seconds, feeling again that there was no way I was going to be able to do that again. But that's what the app told me to do, over and over and at the end I was this close to puking.
A few days in, I texted my sister-in-law:
-You'll never guess what I started doing this week.
-How did you know that??!!
-I just thought to myself, what's the one thing that Jessie has never had any interest in doing?
This is a testament to how established a fact it is that I am a non-runner...and to how well my sister knows me.
Fast forward two months or so, past a run with that same sister who actually knew what she was doing and showed me that what I actually need to do is jog, not sprint; past hours of watching YouTube runners tell me how to make it just a little more efficient; past the few times I tried to run with the Engineer and and he zoomed ahead and did push ups while he waited for met to catch up (It was a real toss up whether I was more annoyed or impressed by this).
Past the milestone of running an uninterrupted mile. And an uninterrupted two miles.
Past the days in between where every foot strike was an exclamation point at the end of a mental I HATE THIS!
Past the hours that I've blasted Jocko and JP through my headphones - although, really, maybe that's actually the most important part of this whole endeavor because as my lungs are burning and my calves are aching, I am making space in my day to activate Discipline Equals Freedom in my body. I am starting off my day with an acceptance of suffering as a path to growth.
Pause at today, at the moment in my run just after I had turned around and started towards home. I had just passed the guy with the huge backpack going the other way on his bike (we nod at each other now), I glance up at the pair of little old Chinese ladies with their dramatic arm swings, walking together on top of the levee...and at the other pair of Chinese ladies a little further down. I note that the middle age woman with the Marathon Finisher t-shirt is out again today (I suddenly notice these shirts now and the superhumans who wear them) and despite my inner coach shouting at me to pace myself, I feel bound and determined to pass her. And I realize that, for the first time during a run, I am thinking:
I love this.
I love the feeling that, despite the fact that I've always insisted, "I'm not a morning person!" my body now thinks that 7am is sleeping in and some of my most productive hours are before the kids get up.
I love the feeling that, despite the fact that I've always insisted, "I just can't run!" I am out here, over a mile into a run, going painfully slow, but still going...
I love the feeling that all of these people out here on the levee have been on to something all this time and I've finally been let in on the secret.
I love the feeling of pushing back the boundaries of my self and becoming something I never thought I could be.
I know, it's small. It's just a 5k. But I've always been a cynic when it comes to the idea that people can change. It's something I want desperately to believe, but when I see people eternally stuck in the same ruts year after year, I kinda start to roll my eyes at the idea that humans can change themselves in any sort of meaningful way - and then there's a heart-stab when I realize that I'm also one of those stuck people.
I'm deep into planning for the coming school year, amassing piles of books and making lists of skills acquisition that need to be prioritized. And, as happens more frequently than I'd like to admit, I hit a wall one night when I looked from the pile of books to our schedule and realized that there was no way we would ever get to all of these and ohmygosh am I being derelict as a educator because Blue will not get to the Illiad this year, and Orange is not ready for grammar because his reading is far from fluent, and Green wants to learn coding but how in the world will we fit that in?!
And it took a series of deep breaths (and just throwing up my hands and making a sno-ball run with the Engineer) to get my feet back on solid ground and remember that learning is incremental. It's wading a tiny step at a time into a vast body of knowledge and your progress seems so infinitesimal that it's almost non-existent.
But then, you look back at the shore and are shocked at how far away it is and you smile a little bit when you realize that all those tiny steps really did add up to something of great significance.
Whether it's learning the basics of botany one flower at a time, or gaining one new word of of a new language, or doing one more rep of that workout move that feels like it's going to do you in, or running a minute longer than you did the last time, or waking up earlier than your gravity-prone body wants to because your soul tells you that even though the calendar says this is just an ordinary day, you know deep down that there are important things you have to do that just can't wait...
...any one of those actions, in singularity, may be insignificant. But day after day, in aggregate, they lead to the definition of you being tweaked, changed, and maybe even unrecognizable from the person you were before.
So, the moral of this, my new favorite story, is that small, consistent steps can lead to unbelievable change. And if you're still skeptical, meet me out on the levee tomorrow with the sunrise and we'll run together.
P.S. And the other moral is that if you hang around a friend like Lilach long enough, you'll eventually find yourself sweating through a workout and wondering, "How in the world did she get me to agree to this?!"
P.P.S If you need a daily reminder of this idea while you are doing the abovementioned sweating, here's my favorite way to get it: