Today I had lunch with coworkers and they were asking me questions about the Ironman. In line with what typically happens when I tell people I intend to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and then run a marathon, one of them said, “I could never do something like that.” And, as usual, I tell them that they could. I truly believe that anyone can run a half marathon, do a triathlon or even complete an Ironman. But they have to want to do it. And not everyone does (which is totally fine!), but I wish they’d stop believing they can’t do it.
I have a friend who tells me the reason she can’t run is that her hip hurts when she runs. I asked her if she has ever gotten fitted for running shoes. No, she says, she just wasn’t born to run. Her body isn’t holding her back from running – her mind is (I mean hello haven’t you heard of the book Born to Run? ;). She has a mental block that is telling her that running isn’t possible. I think that a lot of people believe that endurance athletes are different in some physical way that allows them to compete. I often hear people respond when I tell them I have a marathon coming up, “I can’t even run one mile without stopping.” I usually tell them that neither could I when I started training, but I started with one very slow mile and worked my way to two and soon enough I was running ten. They hear what I’m saying but still don’t believe they can do it.
I used to be one of those people who didn’t believe I could do it. I was always an active child but I was never particularly good at any sport. I had this belief that people were either naturally good or bad at a sport and I was bad at most of them off the bat so I figured I had no potential. I didn’t really realize that if you worked hard and practiced a lot, you could actually improve dramatically. The longest I stuck to any sport was 3 years, but on average I’d play a sport for 2 years. I participated in dance, gymnastics, ice skating, basketball, track and field, swimming and finally field hockey. I was best at swimming but I loved field hockey most (and was pretty good for a beginner). Luckily, I was fairly good at swimming without a lot of effort and that is why I excelled at it. If I did something and didn’t do well immediately, I wasn’t interested. And for me, running was one of those things.
I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, but I genuinely appalled running for the majority of my life and avoided it at all costs. However, I gained the lovely “Freshman 15” and discovered the summer after my freshman year that running helped me lose the weight the fastest (despite the elliptical machine lying to me and telling me I burned 1,000 calories per hour on it). So I ran. I got to the point where it wasn’t so bad. I could even run three miles without stopping. I didn’t have a desire to run any farther than that until I began searching for an outlet for some internal pain. I signed up for my first half marathon when I was at one of the lowest points in my life. 2008 was a rough year for me. I was miserable at my job, I was miserable in my former relationship, I was taking out my pain on my friends and I was drinking way more than I should have. I was searching for any outlet for my pain, any way to escape and do something different. So I signed up for a half marathon. And then I dumped my boyfriend. And then I quit my job. I made amends with the friends I hurt and I made many new ones. I ended 2008 still with a heavy heart but also with a new sense of hope. I trained for that half marathon not knowing if I could finish it. I still wasn’t sure if I had what it took to cover 13.1 miles but at least I was trying. I didn’t enjoy most of my training since I trained alone and mostly on the treadmill, but I had some very special moments during my long runs where I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. I remember the first time I ran 4 miles without stopping. I couldn’t even believe that I had achieved it. Soon enough I was running 9 or 10 miles. It was an indescribable sense of accomplishment for me to cross the finish line of my first half marathon in January of 2009 without having walked one step. I had accomplished something that my insecure 13-year-old self would have never imagined I would. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
I’m not over exaggerating when I say that finishing that half marathon marked a turning point in my life. It probably had a lot to do with getting rid of the boyfriend and job, but it also had a lot to do with the self-confidence I achieved by completing something that I had formerly believed I wasn’t made to do it. The years following that half marathon have been the best years of my life. As I explore more ways to push my body past its limits and achieve goals I set for myself, I have become more self-confident, patient, disciplined, and most importantly, happy.
The difference between me and my coworkers or friends that say they can’t run a race or do a triathlon isn’t that I’m any more capable, genetically gifted, hard-working or athletic than them. It’s that I believe I can do it. I know that if I set the goal to cover 140.6 miles in 1 day that I can do it. I also know that the difference between me and a lot of other people is that I want to do it, because it’s not everyone’s life dream to test their physical limits and endure up to 17 hours of pain just to say they are an Ironman. That’s my dream, not everyone’s and I’m not saying it should be. But what I don’t like is to hear from people who are sedentary, that don’t do any cardiovascular activity at all to keep their heart healthy or add years to their life that they can’t do something. If you’ve ever watched a challenged athlete missing both legs compete in a triathlon or cross the finish line of a 5k or watched a 350 pound Biggest Loser contestant finish the season by running a marathon, you know this isn’t the case. I hate to sound cliché, but you can do anything you set your mind to – you just have to be smart about it and know your body and your limits. You can’t go from couch potato to Ironman in three months but you can certainly make progress toward it in that time.
So if you’re thinking about doing something, do it! Believe me, it’ll be worth every moment of sacrifice and temporary pain when you achieve your goal.
“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make.” Les Brown