This post is a throwback to the first time I ran a mile. For years now, people have known me as someone who loves to jog. I recall the first time someone texted me with something along the lines of, “I’m looking for a local race to run. Which one would you recommend?” I was shocked, and for good reason.
I didn’t know myself to be a sporty person of any kind. I had run “the mile” for the first time ever in grade 9 gym class. It was a mandatory part of the class curriculum, and it was also the most physically challenging thing I’d ever done up to that point. My experiences running before that had been few and very far between.
I had spontaneously enrolled in a 3,000-metre race at a cross country meet when I was in the fourth grade, and I’d dropped out after less than two full laps around the track because I couldn’t catch my breath enough to continue, and then I’d watched another last-minute contender wearing high-heeled wedge sandals sprint to a first-place finish. Then there was the maize field where my father jogged… He’d taken me once, and I had not had an easy time of trying to keep up with him. I’d walked more than I’d jogged.
And that was that.
But back to “the mile.” I was thirteen and determined to run the entire 1600 metres in my mandatory ninth-grade physical education class, mostly under pressure from the svelte, lean frames of the other girls in my class, none of whom seemed to be struggling with the task, and some of whom literally lapped me before the end of the four or so rounds about the field.
I remember taking well over ten excruciating—and embarrassing—minutes to finish and being so out of breath that my gym teacher approached me and only me to say “I know that was difficult for you. Why don’t you go inside to get a drink of water?” The only person who finished slower than me had had their appendix removed a few months before and still couldn’t jog.
Then something happened. I’m not sure why or when, but at some point, I decided that running was a challenge I could overcome. This was pretty incredible in retrospect because I had no real evidence to believe I would. There had been absolutely nothing in my past, up to that point, to suggest I might one day be able to run without stopping from too much pain or that I’d ever enjoy it.
Still, I joined the track and field team, where I was the slowest person ever, and after high school, I started to exercise regularly. Jogging, no matter how little or how slow, became part of my routine.
So fifteen years on from that first mile, running is a regular part of my life, and I enjoy it more than ever. I’m still not fast, but I can maintain a sub-9 minute pace, which is a far cry from what I could do in my teenage years, and I can keep that pace for 7–8 miles. I can keep a slightly slower one for 13 miles (that’s a whole half-marathon).
Now, going out for a 10-km / 6-mile jog with a podcast is a treat; it’s something I look forward to and enjoy. I never struggle with stomachaches and getting air into my lungs anymore, and the only thing that starts to ache after one too many miles are my hips and leg muscles and sometimes my toes.
Even then, I can usually stop and stretch, and keep going.
I went from barely being able to finish one mile to stopping to walk only once for only a few seconds at a hill during an entire half-marathon, and I continue to run faster and farther regularly just for fun. And I did it all without obsessing about a goal or vision.
When I look back at my running journey, it’s really heartening for me, not just for my personal fitness journey today but for other areas of life as well. It’s the sort of proof I need that the goal-obsessed, vision-obsessed culture of self-development and human potential that I live in is only part right and that you can “get there” just by believing you will and doing the work—and not worrying too much or too often about what comes next.
Maybe the reason that is so inspiring to me is a byproduct of my slightly anxious personality type. But looking back on something like this is a nice reminder that I don’t have to really consider how I am getting there, or how far I am, as long as I’m contributing the right effort.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the glitz and glam of the goals and visions and “whys” of every next self-development guru can be a bit hollow for long-range goals that can require years of work? I’d love to read why or why not.
What’s your story of a time you got something you wanted without thinking too much about prospective results? I’d love to know!