When I was in high school we had to do the mile run. You know, in front of everyone.
Some of us happened to be un-athletic, slightly chubby drama club kids. Some of us might have been girls who wore old t-shirts from the Salvation Army and cut our own bangs in an attempt to establish an identity outside of the mainstream. Because maybe some of us watched Reality Bites at a pivotal moment in our development and dreamed of being just like Winona Ryder’s character while harboring a deep understanding that we were Janine Garofalos.
Basically, I wasn’t a girl who was physically or emotionally equipped to run a mile in front of my classmates. So what would any self-respecting adolescent do when faced with a weakness? Deny and overcompensate. I ran so damn fast. I tried to look casual as I gasped for air and my legs burned. When I say I thought I might die, it’s because I legitimately thought I might die. But, worse than that would be living, slowing to walk the last quarter-mile, and being the last person in class to cross the finish line.
An eight-minute mile, folks. Pretty good! Definitely not embarrassing. Until I threw up.
So I decided that I hated running. It actually felt like hell, so why would I ever do it again? And I didn’t for years and years.
I don’t remember what got me into jogging in my late twenties, but it probably had something to do with hating the way I looked in pants. I started doing short distances, and it was hard, but something dawned on me. I was alone. No sixteen year olds watching me, no gym teacher with a stop watch, no ill-fitting gym clothes or weird ponytail. Check that, I totally had a weird ponytail, but I didn’t care because I was alone. I could go at my own pace, and my own pace was slow.
I’ve been on and off (and off )of jogging since then with a long break for pregnancy. I just picked it up again about a week and a half ago. It took me a while postpartum to feel able to exercise, but when I finally did, it felt magical. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never had such a good time running. I’ve never even had a good time running. Now it feels great.
One thing I’m hypothesizing is that my pain tolerance is so much higher now, that the physically uncomfortable parts don’t bother me quite so much. Also, it is time alone to focus on my body and my brain and the fresh air.
And slow? I got it. I got slow slow slow down to a science.
Yesterday there was a pickle-faced girl on a scooter who passive aggressively scooted just a foot ahead of me for about a third of a mile. She was kind of goading me in an evil-genius fashion (a little terrifying for someone who appeared to be 11 years old). She’d casually look back and give me the stink eye every minute or so.
High School me would have done one of two things. Either say “forget this” and just stop running, or start sprinting to get the hell away from her. But yesterday, I just kept jogging. Slow slow slow and very steady. I kept my breathing even and my pace consistent and I had a great run.
Not worrying about where you are “supposed” to be is so important. Being motivated by dodging embarrassment is a great way to not enjoy anything, or ever learn anything. The older I get the more clear this becomes. It’s good to be bad at things because that’s how you get good at things.
Whether it’s running, writing, or learning French* I think the same rules apply. If you can happily go fast, that’s awesome! But otherwise, find the pace that let’s you breathe and enjoy the jog.
*I’m not learning French. Yet. But I love croissants.