When I was in middle school we had to run a mile for PE class. As everyone else finished, they gathered on the bleachers by the track and waited for the rest of us. Or should I say, they waited for me. I was THE. VERY. LAST. ONE. I went home and cried that day because more than anything I wanted to be a runner and I couldn't even finish a mile. I was never athletic, didn't play sports, and wasn't what anyone would call skinny. I was frequently sick, bookish, and clumsy...but, by God I had a quick wit, so I didn't totally suck. I never went on to run as a youth, after all, running was hard, and like most people, I had an aversion to difficulty. And then, four years ago, I moved to Guam and something changed. I became a runner. Last May I completed The Great Wall Marathon. Me, the chubby girl who couldn't finish the mile in eighth grade, finished the THIRD HARDEST MARATHON in the WORLD. (without injuries, I might add...that's something to be proud of)
During the course of the last few years I have learned so much about myself through running. I want to share some of those things with you. Because, maybe you are like I was: you want to, but you just don't think you can. Listen to me, (I never lie...except on birthdays and at Christmas): YOU TOTALLY CAN.
*Listed in order from most vain to most meaningful
1) Running gives you pretty skin.
Ever since Ye Olde Puberty I have struggled with "difficult" skin. Running increases your circulation and most people drink more water when they do it, so that helps flush out the yucky stuff. See how scientific that was? I should debate Bill Nye! Now, I can't solely credit running with that transformation. Around the time I began running, I drastically changed my diet and that played a huge factor in my overall health. As a matter of fact, I got rid of a mysterious autoimmune condition that puzzled doctors and made me sick for several years. You can read more about it here.
2) Running helps you lose weight
Like I said, I've never been what anyone would call "skinny". I've been referred to as "healthy", "curvy", "baby manatee" (thanks, Dad) and "pudge" (Dad again). I carry most of my "healthy" in the second third of my body and have a hard time getting rid of it. Running regularly, coupled with crossfit and diet change, helped me get down to the leanest I have ever been in my life.
3) Running helped me to shatter my own preconceived ideas about women.
Because the ads in magazines and on TV featuring female runners always show a super thin, young and beautiful woman, I assumed that's how they all looked. I know, dumb, but I think many of us are unaware how much marketing influences our thoughts, if even subtly. My running group was comprised of runners of all ages and sizes. Some were fast and some were slower, but they all had one thing in common: they were runners.
In the words of Legally Blonde's Elle Woods: Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.
5) Running creates a strong heart and lungs.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was a sickly child and teenager. Before ninth grade I got pneumonia (I spelled that without spellcheck, HEY-O!) and I had chronic bronchitis as I got older. On top of all that I had a heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse. After running, weight-lifting, and dietary change, not only can I hold my breath for a really long time, but any trace of the heart murmur and prolapse is gone and I very rarely get sick anymore. Your heart is a muscle, folks. Make it a strong one.
6) Running taught me self-discipline.
This is a big one for me. Even though I wasn't blessed with athletic ability or natural gracefulness, books and school came very easily for me. I rarely had to study to make A's and I was always on the Dean's List in college. The things I did came easy and so I never really had to make myself DO anything. Running changed all of that. Guam was so hot that we had to start running at 5 or 5:30 in the morning and races began even earlier. For the first time in my life, I was frequently the first one awake in the house. Up before even the sun and roosters, having my coffee with the geckos and jungle sounds. I believe a lack of self-discipline is one of the root problems that prevent people from achieving their goals. We are often our own worst enemies.
7) Running taught me goal-setting.
This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, but it still needs to be noted. Setting goals was extremely crucial to my success and I have to credit my coach in Guam (Hafa Adai, Matt!) with teaching me that fitness isn't all about how you look. He challenged me not to set physical goals for myself like a certain number on the scale or a size in clothes. Instead, he suggested we set athletic goals for me to accomplish and beat. This was a game-changer. For the first time in my life, someone told me I could be "athletic", even if that meant setting a number of squat jumps or miles per hour to beat against MYSELF. It was only ever against myself. Like I mentioned before, up until that point, life had been easy for me. I'm not a competitive person by nature, I want everyone to win. BUT...seeing my previous record and then shattering it gave me a very empowering sense of accomplishment and that translated into every aspect of my life ultimately making me a better human.
8) Running taught me to push myself.
Like I said, most people have an aversion to difficulty. It's just human nature. The body hurts, it says stop, and we listen. It's normal to want to take the easiest route. But guess what I learned through running (and some really difficult patches in life)? Usually the harder way is more rewarding. In order to run further or run faster, I had to push my body out of its comfort zone, and it hurt. I'm not going to lie. There were times (like this morning) that my lungs and legs burned and my heart was pounding, but I was determined to run all the way home faster than the previous time. General George Patton said the following: Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired- morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.
9) Running enabled me to be a better role model for my daughters.
I have two daughters. They are amazing little creatures and I knew after my last bout with my autoimmune condition that I had to make some serious changes in my life, for them, for me, for all of us. I wanted them to know that keeping your body strong and healthy is nearly as important as exercising the mind. I wanted them to see me overcome myself and perhaps someday use those memories to help them push through their own personal struggles. I wanted to be more than love for them. I wanted to be strength as well. My husband would bring them to my races and when I would see them waiting for me and cheering me on at the finish line, my eyes would instantly tear up and I would be overcome with such a vast and intense array of emotions, only a woman and mother could fully comprehend them. Running, and distance running in particular, is about perseverance. And so many times as is the case with life, our most difficult moments are the ones that require us to persevere when it hurts and when it is hard. My running showed my girls that they can persevere.
10) Running taught me that I can overcome myself.
Nearly every time I run I think about middle-school Jill. I think about how impossible and painful a thing running seemed to be and how when I cried in my room that day, long ago, and thought I would never be able to do it, that I was giving in to my own lying voices. We are always at war with our thoughts. They lie to us constantly A wise man once said, "the mind is the greatest battlefield upon which we will ever fight." Before my marathon as we stood huddled together in the early morning light of the Chinese countryside with the enormity of The Great Wall looming before us, I was afraid, so very afraid. My own lying voices told me I wouldn't be able to finish, and that it would hurt so much. I thought about my daughters and I remembered eighth grade Jill and I told the voices to SHUT UP because I was going to FINISH THIS. And after hours of grueling stairs and breathtaking views, I finally crossed the finish line in Yin-Yang square and put the negative voices to death for good. Because I CAN do whatever I set my mind to accomplish, and if I can, then you certainly can too. There are moments when I wish I could travel back in time to my eighth grade bedroom in rural Pennsylvania. I would place my Great Wall medal in my younger self's hands and tell her, "don't worry, you'll never believe what you're going to do one day."