Monday, July 12, 2010

The Back Story, Part II

All right. So once the deciding part was over, it was just a matter of getting myself together, and I used as my organizing principle the coaching method I'd used so many times before with my students.

1. Create a SMART goal. That is, one that is

Specific (Get detailed. Not, "I'm going to start running," but, "I'm going to follow the program I found on and begin training for a 5k, starting tomorrow at 4pm.")

Measureable (How will I know I have made progress toward my goal, and/or reached it? I will be able to progress through the coolrunnings program, and I will register for a 5k in the near future to demonstrate my progress)

Attainable (The program says I can go from couch to 5k in 9 weeks; I have 12 until a 5k event is very handily scheduled to take place in my town, along the very same route I will be using for training)

Realistic (Ahem. Who knows? I'm not saying I'm going to run a marathon in three weeks; I'm following a relatively gentle program with more time than it claims I'll need, so I'll just need to have a little faith that it's possible)

Timely (Meaning, is there a time structure for completing the goal? Yes: a 5k in Alameda, 12 weeks away, and a week-by-week training program to follow for preparation)

2. Create accountability. I did this in two ways. First, I went and registered for the 5k. Signed up, paid the fee, got it on the calendar. I was now in for $45, and on the mailing list for updates and training tips. Second, I took step three, which was:

3. Create a support system. Of course, my husband was a great source of support and encouragement here He even trained along with me, and ran the 5k himself (his first, as well).  But I needed more than just his support-- I needed to get a strong network to keep myself going.

I emailed my three sisters and my brothers-in-law and told them my plan. They all responded enthusiastically, of course, and it was great to have them aboard. But these people, as wonderful and supportive as they are, are ALWAYS on my team. It goes without saying. And this time, I needed something more than unconditional support.

This is where I made my boldest move: I also decided to post my plans and updates on Facebook. Those of you who know me well: go ahead and laugh now. Yes, this one was quite out of character for me, and as it turned out, it was probably the key element in the whole plan.  I took the step I'd advised others to make so many times before, and I brought the threat of public humiliation into the mix. At least, that's what I thought I was doing.

As it happens, posting on Facebook was a gift from the gods. As I began my program, I fell in to the habit of posting a quick report every time I returned from a run: how it went, how I felt, the level of difficulty I experienced, etc. I vowed to myself that I would not be too self-deprecating (as is my wont); I would not complain; I would not wallow in fear or self-loathing or helplessness, which, let's face it, are the exercise novice's constant companions.
Not this time. Not me. On Facebook, I would post only what was true outside of my own head-- it was raining, I ran x far in y time, whatever. And I would only use positive or neutral language to describe my internal experience-- my knees hurt but I pushed through, it was easier (or harder) than last time, etc. I was determined not to allow myself to turn it into a joke, or to let my self-consciousness get in my way.

To digress from my main point for a second: I can't tell you what a profound impact that decision-- the decision to remain sarcasm-free--had on my progress. It might surprise some of you to hear this, but I am an EXTREMELY self-conscious person. I am forever the extremely reluctant audience member thrust rudely and unexpectedly into the spotlight. You might ask why I shy away from the spotlight, and it's a fair question.

I've been asking myself why I'd prefer to be an audience member in my own life.

Anyway, the language thing really worked. I let myself brag. Well, I guess it wasn't bragging, really; it was more like simply claiming my accomplishments and letting myself be proud of them publicly. At first, it felt like bragging, and it was weird and a little uncomfortable. And then it felt exciting. And then it became incredibly motivating and I looked forward to the next thing I'd be able to claim-- I looked forward to doing it, and I also looked forward to telling my friends I had done it.

I'd be out there on a run, planning the Facebook update in my head-- what I'd say, what I'd leave out, how I'd capture what was different about this particular run. When I got home, I'd go straight to the computer and post. I had to remind myself to stretch first-- I'd be in such a hurry to get online, write it down, make it real, that I would often forget and be stiff and sore within the hour.

And that brings me back to the biggest benefit of all: the response my posts began to get from friends. I don't know why it was such a surprise, but it was. People started to root for me. Their comments were encouraging and supportive and all the things you'd expect, intellectually, but emotionally, they became a lifeline for me. Seeing those comments pop up after I'd posted a fresh update was more gratifying than anything else. Maybe even more gratifying than the runs themselves. Or at the very least, the comments made the running seem even more worthwhile, like I was part of something bigger than just myself.  And maybe, through sharing my experience, I was.

Because it didn't stop there. At first, it was just "woo hoo" comments from well-wishers, and tips and guidance from my friends with running experience. But as time went by and I made more and more progress, people began to say things like, "You've inspired me to start running, too."  That was when it really hit me: motivation isn't simply a binary switch-- it's on or off, you have it or you don't. It's a multifaceted, living, breathing, evolving thing, given and received on many levels.

I'd found just enough motivation to get myself started, and I'd hoped to get little booster shots of it from the occasional friend cheering me on over Facebook, but it never occurred to me that I might motivate others through my actions. It never occurred to me that I might provide an example that someone else might want to follow, when it came to exercise. And it follows that it never occurred to me how much more motivated I would feel as a result.

By the time I was a few weeks in, my support network was firmly established and an essential part of my routine. All those times I'd coached others to identify the people on their team and recruit them to be their cheering section and to push them through when times got tough, I never really appreciated how very meaningful such an experience could be. All my coaching advice had remained in the abstract for me when it came to applying it to my own goals and actions, and here I was,finally, following the simplest and most basic coaching structure, and it was changing my life, almost literally overnight.

Physician, heal thyself!

From the end of March through the end of May, I followed the Couch-to-5k plan and found myself, to my utter shock and amazement, actually enjoying it. And not only that: I was also running, for real, farther than I ever thought I could possibly run. By the time June 5th rolled around, the date of my first official 5k run, I was ready. My husband and I brought our daughters with us, and as we joined the other stroller-pushers at the back of the pack, he turned to me and said, "I'll push the babies. You go do your run."

And I ran!

It was a slow, steady pace, just as I'd been doing in training in the previous weeks. A 15-minute mile is not a break-neck speed by any calculation. But it was the pace I'd set consistently, and it got me from start to finish without stopping, which was my only goal for that first race. I wove my way through the slow, walking crowd at the back and found myself somewhere in the middle of the 2000+ runners on the road that day. I kept seeing myself from above, seeing myself running, running, passing people, feeling strong, running, running, keeping up, not stopping, and I fought back the tears that kept coming and making it hard to breathe. 

The tears were a surprise. As I said before, I'm not so good with the emotional stuff. I'm not a crier. But finding myself out there on the road in a place I'd never, not once in my life, imagined I could be was more moving than I can describe. I don't think I have ever felt so powerful. There are only a few moments in my life where I have ever felt so proud.

I finished that first race in 45 minutes and 19 seconds. My husband was still behind me in the crowd, pushing the double stroller (an 80-pound monster on wheels, when fully loaded with babies and gear, and no small task), so he wasn't there to cheer me across the finish line, but it didn't matter. I couldn't keep the smile from my face as I came around the final corner, and I cheered myself across the finish line. 

It felt just as good.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that if I were really going to do my running updates justice, I'd need to move everything over to a blog. Facebook is nice, but it only allows you 420 characters in a status update (Oh, you clever, stoned FB technical architects! Put down the Doritos and go get some fresh air, will you?). So here I am, starting fresh with a new plan to work my way up to a 10k by the fall.

Like my legs in the beginning, my writing is a bit shaky. I'm still warming up.  It's a double challenge now; not only to run, but to write with insight and vulnerability in such a public forum.  Neither of these things are my strong suits, yet (and yes, I do have three degrees in writing, but poetry and fiction are not the same as this kind of self-revelation. At least, they aren't for me. So it's different. Frustrating, but true). But I'm working on it. Slowly, surely, and at a steady pace.

I hope you'll join me for the trip.


  1. Hi Kate, Lisa LS here, reading your blog!! I am really moved by your thing about not letting self-consciousness get in your way. It's just powerful, especially for me. Thanks for sharing so deeply.

    And you know that I started the same program *because of you*. Hmm, something bigger than life is changed.

    And your writing is awesome!! I'll keep reading...xoxo Lisa

  2. "I've been asking myself why I'd prefer to be an audience member in my own life."

    I was thinking about this statement and I wondered if becoming a mother, being thrust absolutely into the spotlight of your girls life and love, has made it easier for your to leave your 'audience member' status behind. As their mother, you are in the mix, no chance to sit out and observe.

    P.S. I could have sworn I commented on this post, but I think I didn't wait for the word verification!