[This is part 1 of 2 of my “how do I get started and stick with running?” response to the various feedback and solicitations for advice I’ve been getting about my first year of running. I have a loaded response to these quandaries, and am amazed and feel so awesome that my friends are entrusting me with these kinds of questions. I am NO EXPERT. I am still very much a beginning, novice runner running at a medium to slow pace. But I do have quite a lot to say in praise of running, and about how it’s changed my life, so I’m happy to provide any and all thoughts on the subject! See part 2, for more practical advice, here.]

On Thursday this past week, this is how I spent my evening:

  • Get off work at 4:30
  • Head straight to the gym by 5
  • Body Pump class for an hour
  • Post-workout organic protein shake
  • Veggies and tofu for dinner
  • A little bit of TV and surfing the net
  • Pre-bedtime yogurt and hemp seeds snack, with a healthy dose of portioned Tostito scoops
  • Watched The Spirit of the Marathon
  • Felt all the feels

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A year ago I never would have recognized myself as spending my time in such a way.

I’m not the type to really hold back on social media about what I’m up to. I use my Facebook and Twitter and blog as sort of virtual scrapbooks, where I throw my virtual life at the wall and figure the important stuff will stick and the stuff that felt important enough at the time to post, I can look back on and laugh at how far I’ve come from something that once felt terrible and later seems so trivial. I’m not one to be too concerned, at least not anymore, with what people think of me, especially just based on social media.

Either way, much of my running life I’ve posted to social media. I use it as motivation, and it ends up going 360. Lately I’ve been getting more and more direct messages to my Facebook inbox asking for advice about how to become a runner, or people from all different corners of life texting me asking me to run with them because they need the push, or people saying in conversation, laughing, that they’re “just not” runners, though they “wish” they “could be.”

When people ask me for advice about how to start running or sticking with running, I’m sort of overwhelmed with how to respond. I could detail all the things I did to keep myself motivated, and I do, but I’ve realized that a step came before setting up a training plan, buying cute running clothes I actually wanted to put on, following Facebook running communities for commiseration and motivation when I saw other people posting their daily miles. Before all of that, I decided I wanted to be a runner. Everyone’s methods and training plans and sources of motivation are all different. The one thing that unites us as humans is free will. Essentially, given just enough freedom, we do whatever we really want. The trick is to teach yourself to want it.

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If you really wish you could like running, decide you’re going to like running. Don’t just wish it. Decide it.

(Assuming running has not been deemed by your doctor as something you should NOT do, of course.)

Much to my mother’s dismay, I have always been a stubborn little motherfucker. There are certain things about my personality that have changed shape over time, but at my core I have always been immoveable when I want or don’t want something. To get me to do anything, it’s just a matter of making me want to do it. I would be one of those mothers who lifts a truck with her bare hands to save her child, because suddenly in that moment it would be the one thing I want to do more than anything in the world.

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I decided I wanted to be an actor when I was 14 and while my mom didn’t really want me pursuing it, and no one had told me yet that I had any talent, I dismissed those factors and went on to get big parts in high school, college, and professional regional theatre, winning a college scholarship for my theatre work, and I guarantee that if I’d kept wanting to be an actor, I’d be on Broadway one day. Not because I am any more talented or beautiful than the next person, but because I am THAT stubborn. 

My whole life I have had big dreams, big goals, and a rotten little stubborn streak. This can be both a blessing and a curse. I often get sidetracked from the larger goal if I don’t see the connection to the thing I immediately want that would block the path to that larger goal. If I really, really wanted to lose weight, if it were that important to me, I wouldn’t be sitting here with some fajita Tostito scoops while I write this. What I want more than to be a size 4 is to enjoy my Saturday night. However, what I want more than either of those is to improve my running, so I also put good nutrients and vitamins in my body on a fairly regular basis and I ran 3 miles today at a good pace even when I wanted to stay under my blankets and nap

So how do you strike a balance between achieving your long term goals when so many immediate wants are in the way? You want to become a runner but in the immediate moment your bed feels so much better than the thought of huffing and puffing at a 6mph pace.

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Reframe your bigger goal. Why do you want to become a runner? Why do you wish you liked running? Is it because other people seem to enjoy it so much and you wished you had something enjoy that much? Is it because you’d like to be one of the people running the New York City marathon instead of just watching it on the news? Is it because, like me, you really like shiny things and need things around you to remind you how much you can achieve when you put your mind to it? Is your WHY big enough, strong enough to push you past the moments it feels hard?

It’s okay, when you know you have to run, or while you’re out running, to say it’s hard. Running IS hard. To people it comes easily to, great, good for them. But no one grows or changes at the core unless they push themselves through something hard. You can have all the luck in the world, and find yourself swimming in compliments and money and friends, but your inner spirit will never undergo a change for the stronger unless shit gets hard and you get through it anyway. 

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One of my best friends, who doesn’t know I’m writing about her right now so for now we’ll call her L, is the strongest person I know. She is always there for her family and friends. I don’t know how she finds the hours in the day, but at any given moment I can assume L is brightening someone’s day, whether listening to their problems and sympathizing, telling them a hilarious story, or just sharing a fun moment. She is kind, loving, warm. She has been through some horrible things I can’t begin to imagine going through, and every day she smiles. The range of the hardships she’s been through range from social to economic to health, much of it I would be traumatized to have to deal with, and if you met her today you would have no idea she’s been through so much. She gets up every day, makes life happen for herself, and loves her family and friends with every ounce of her heart. She laughs and smiles because she chooses to live life on her own terms instead of letting things she couldn’t control control her.

I talk about L because in deciding this year to want to do the thing that for the longest time I so adamantly resisted, I have learned to be more like L. Is L a runner? No. But she’s incredibly self-reliant, positive, resourceful. I used to be so dependent on other people, so offended if someone let me down. But I cannot and never will be able to control other people, and it’s time we all stopped trying to. The only person I can control is myself, and how much more awesomely okay with myself would we all be if all the energy we put into trying to control other people we put into pushing our own limits and daring ourselves to believe we are enough for our own love?

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This year, in running alone, in sticking with it, in getting out of bed when it was hard, in continuing to literally put one foot in front of the other even when I just wanted to pack it up and get a cheeseburger, in showing up to the start line alone, in crossing the finish line alone, in putting the miles in even when they were slow, hard, or it was cold or hot out or the treadmill bored me to tears, I learned that I am the only person I can ever count on, AND THAT’S OKAY. It doesn’t mean be bitter. It doesn’t mean shun other people when they’re around. It simply means people come and go, but YOU are the only YOU you will ever have and YOU have to live with yourself forever, so get used to doing things for yourself. People will be your heroes, and the same people may very well let you down.

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This idea used to terrify me. Suddenly, one day, and I don’t know the moment I really started to believe it and know it deep in my core, one day I found incredible freedom and strength in just myself.

And as a runner, YOU are all you need. Believe it or not, you don’t need your running buddy, though I’m not telling you to ditch her. You don’t need your iPod, and trust me, this is something I’m only now starting to believe for myself (haha, you laugh, but seriously. Only like, in the last two weeks). All you need is you.

Does this mean I’m some curmudgeony bitter loner cat lady? Yes. No! I always told myself I’d be okay being alone but it wasn’t until I ran my first half marathon alone, driving down by myself, running the 13.1 without any friends or family in the crowd cheering for me, having trained completely and totally alone the entire year, that I really believed it and understood it. I had to go through all that loneliness to find the freedom and strength in it.

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I’m in a new relationship now. Used to be when I started dating someone new I’d freak out about losing my independence – I was afraid of being “half” of something and losing my wholeness, and resisted the relationship until then somehow I became totally dependent on it. Even just on first dates, if a second didn’t follow, I’d wonder what about me was so unlikeable to not want to follow up.

For the first time I am not afraid at all of losing myself, or worried about what it would say about me, what I’m lacking, if tomorrow Steve was like “neh, peace.” I’m not half a relationship. I’m simply wholly myself, choosing to spend time with something (someone) who makes me laugh and smile. And when we’re done hanging out, I’m still wholly me.

tumblr_m4r2heeZw21qb7fuio1_r1_1280In learning to love running, in deciding I was going to be a runner, I have learned and found my full power and potential as an individual. I think it’s no coincidence that in 2013, which started off with the death of my dog, which, for someone with a neurological deficiency of serotonin and an overload of cortisol (read: clinical depression and anxiety disorder) could have really sent me over the edge, instead, landed my dream job, did so many things I never before thought I could do, and now I smile every day. Because everything else could go away and I’d still have me, and I’ve learned just how strong I am.

In 2014 I am going to run the marathon. I’ve been afraid of it. I’ve said I’m going to do it, but then in my head thought maybe I could just stick with half marathons. That’s enough right? That’s good enough? And that thought is when I knew, when I decided, when I realized that I really, really want to run a full marathon. Because I am afraid of it. And because it’s outside my comfort zone. And because I believe I can, so I will. 

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