“It’s all in your head…”

If I had a dime for every time I have heard that phrase in my life, I’d be able to retire.  Most of the time I wrote it off simply as folks thinking I was capable of more than I was.  Sometimes I caught myself saying it to others.  In general though, I’m a cynic who assumed that people were just overestimating my abilities, especially physical ones.  Today, I inadvertently proved myself wrong, or rather, my good friend Christian did.

I was on the school track team all through middle school.  I was, in fact, the main track star.  I could sprint the 100 and 200 meter dash like nobody’s business, leap hurdles like they were a bump in the pavement, and throw a 10lb iron shot put like it was a hackey sack.  The one thing I couldn’t do, however, was run much more than 200 meters. Every practice session started with a 400 meter (quarter mile) run that I inevitably had to walk part of.  I just couldn’t do it.  Once a season I’d have to run in a 400 meter race and crossed the finish line horribly embarrassed each time because I would have to walk at least a quarter of the way, if not more.  I was a sprinter, not a jogger.  My track coach said that it was normal, that sprinters usually have muscles with fibers meant for speed, not stamina, and that despite my extreme level of physical fitness at the time, he didn’t find it odd that I couldn’t complete a lap around the track.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve assumed that I was just incapable of jogging for any reasonable distance. As I’ve gotten progressively more and more out of shape, I surmised that the problem could only have worsened.  Last summer I started the Couch to 5K program and found that even on the 60 second runs, I was extremely winded afterwards and felt that I “had” to have the pre-determined breaks.  I quit after a month because I seemed to be making little to no progress toward my goal of being able to run a mile, much less 5 kilometers.

Since moving to Alexandria, I’ve become very good friends with my reenacting buddy Christian, who lives down the street.  He used to be in the Army, but was discharged due to major surgery on his shoulder.  A few weeks ago I mentioned to him my seeming inability to run, and he took it as something of a challenge. The Army most certainly teaches you to run, and his diagnosis was the all-to-familiar “It’s all in your head!” that I had heard many times before.  However, he’s a good friend, so I agreed to his suggestion that he and I run together three nights a week.  I told him that I’d be ecstatic if I could run even a mile after a few months of training with him.

Tonight was the first night of jogging, and Christian was in tough-yet-friendly drill sergeant mode.  We walked to the nearby track, and as we stepped onto the pavement, he said something that gave me serious pause.  “We’re going to run two miles today, and you’re not going to fall behind, walk, or stop.  At all.” My initial reaction was an internal “Sure, that’s what you think!” and then “Yeah, right. Dream on, buddy.”  Until today, I had never run more than a half a mile in my life.  Today, Christian made me prove myself wrong, as I ran an entire two miles without stopping, slowing down, walking, or falling more than 5 feet behind him.  Today I ran four times longer than I’ve ever run before, beating my previous record by a whopping 1.5 MILES.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I did it.  Every time I kept thinking I had to stop, Christian would make me speed up to be in line with him.  When I said my feet and shoulders hurt, he made me start talking to keep my mind off it.  When I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, he told me to breathe slower (totally not logical).  The one time I started to seriously slow down, he got behind me and physically pushed me ahead.  As if all that wasn’t enough, he made me sprint the last 200 meters.  Every 100 meters, I was sure that I was going to quit, and every 100 meters he made sure that I didn’t. “If you don’t stop, you won’t stop.  Until your legs give out and you physically collapse, your inability to run is purely in your head.” he said, after telling me that if I wasn’t on the verge of throwing up that I wasn’t anywhere near done yet, and that the spots appearing in my vision were a sign that I was getting proper amounts of oxygen for the exercise involved.  Shockingly, he was right.

We’re going to do another two miles on Wednesday, and again on Friday, and hopefully on a general M/W/F basis from now on.  I am really anticipating Wednesday’s run, because I want to see what physical effect it will have on my run to know that yes, I can do it.  As they say, the first time is always the hardest.  I also suspect that this may have a major effect on how I view things in general, as this has dealt a serious blow to my somewhat defeatist attitude toward many things, and I suspect that I may push myself harder on things in the future.  I have come to the realization that before today, I had never attempted anything that I wasn’t at least somewhat sure about my ability to complete it. When I started running today, I was 95% sure that I wouldn’t be able to complete the two miles, and yet…I did.  “You can’t find out if you don’t try.” has suddenly become a much more important concept in my life, thanks to today.

[Photos by Alain Limoges, Angie Ambrosio]

1 Comment

  1. Awesome! It’s great to have a friend to motivate you as well, sometimes others can spot the capability that you think you lack.


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