I have a confession to make. It was Fall 2008 and I couldn’t run to the corner of my street without getting winded. I was in my 30s, the mother of two, with a successful career. I wasn’t particularly out of shape. I have been in good health most of my life. But I couldn’t run to the corner. And that bugged me.
Fast forward to 2012 and I am in the best shape of my life. I have run a few half-marathons. I lift weights regularly and I crave physical activity like never before.
But this is not the story of how I received devastating health news and fought my way back through exercise. This is not the story of how a life-changing experience drew me to running. This is a story of finding inspiration in unlikely places. It is about overcoming mental barriers and reaching new heights.
It all started with my work. I was a marketing and communications director at a large company. And I had just signed my company up to be the sponsor of a marathon/half marathon/5k weekend event. It was a great match for our company, and many employees, including senior people, were excited to participate.
I flew to the race city to meet with the event team to start working through our activation plans. I met with many people over the course of a few days, including the race directors, a married couple who have made a career out of their passion for running. Over dinner, I listened to their stories and got caught up in their enthusiasm. They challenged me to run, and by dessert, I agreed to run my first 5k at the event weekend, only a few months away.
I am goal-driven and competitive. But I knew I couldn’t run 3.1 miles. I panicked. How do I get out of this? I didn’t have an elegant way out, so I enlisted the help of a trainer I knew. I told him I need to make a decent showing at this 5k for professional reasons. It had nothing to do with my personal well-being. My credibility was at stake. I can’t be the face and champion of this event within the company and be the last one to finish the 5k? The trainer got me ready. Most importantly, he gave me confidence. He convinced me that I was an athlete. I believed him when he said I was ready.
In January 2009, I ran the 5k. As I crossed the finish line, I made two phone calls. The first was to my husband to say I had done it. The second was to my trainer to thank him. He had believed in me and he showed me how to believe in myself. The next day, as I watched thousands of people complete the half-marathon, I told the race directors, I’d be back next year — and I would run the half.
Guess what I did in January 2010?
The benefits of running are many, and my physical well-being has improved immensely since I started to run. But the most significant lesson I learned from running is that our biggest barrier to accomplishment is ourself. We limit ourselves with our fears and insecurities. We often think more in terms of what we can’t do instead of what we can do. I was never an athlete. Growing up, I had always been the intellectual one, not the athlete. But the experience of watching runners challenged me to wonder why I couldn’t be both. Imagine if we could apply that learning to bigger problems? Imagine if people who struggle with health challenges, depression and other co-morbidities could overcome the deep sense of defeat and find the strength to believe they can overcome — and more importantly, thrive. Physical challenges always remain, but the old saying of putting your mind to something holds true. We need courage to reach new heights.
I have applied that lesson to other aspects of my life and it has made me braver than I ever was. And I have had the honor of trying to help others believe they can overcome challenges with success. I recently came across a quote from George Sheehan, an American physician, author, and runner who said, “Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” I think that sums it up! So what’s next for me? I’m not sure, but I’m considering running a mud-crawling, fire-leaping extreme 5K this summer. Stay tuned…