Eleanor Roosevelt and Yoda
What Would They Say About the Comfort Zone?
I don’t remember why I decided to run my first marathon. I don’t think it was a very well thought out decision. (Insert wise crack here about the decision to have children.) I think quite honestly, I signed up to do the NYC Marathon because my friends were doing it. I was living in Manhattan and I hung out with a relatively in shape crowd. A few friends had done it the year before and I remember being envious of their experience. (Which by the way, sounds way better than: I was insanely jealous of them).
But there are many things I do remember during my first season of training and about the day itself – that glorious, awful day… It was the spring of 1995 and there I was on line (not online, but physically standing on my own two legs in an actual line) outside of Tavern on the Green in Central Park waiting to hand in my $10 and my NYC Marathon application. When I close my eyes, I can picture being there but that’s it. I can’t remember what I was thinking or how I was feeling. Weird but true.
I remember the first time I ran double digits – a 10 mile training run. One outer loop of Central Park in addition to the inner loop. I do remember thinking, “wow, that’s the furthest I’ve ever run.” And I remember feeling so completely depleted of salt and energy, that we stopped at H&H Bagels immediately afterward to replenish our dehydrated and tired bodies with a salted bagel and a carton of orange juice.
I remember getting up early before work and running 6 miles each day for months prior to the big day. I remember not having a plan and not worrying about it AT ALL! I remember joining the NYCRR club twice for their long group runs on the weekends – one was a 16 miler and the other was a 20. All completed without a fuel belt and without GU, just a few stops at the public water fountains scattered about the park. I considered myself trained.
I remember that morning, waiting to get started, standing around just beside the Verrazano at Fort Wadsworth trying to stay warm. The temps must have been below freezing b/c it was snowing and the wind was blowing! We would later learn that it was the worst weather the NYC Marathon had seen to date and a record number of runners got back on the baggage buses and headed into Manhattan without running a single step. The gun went off and there I stood, and stood and stood on the upper level of the Verrazano in a sea of tens of thousands of other runners. We would start to jog and then stop, jog/stop/jog/stop until eventually we got going. It took me 6+ minutes to just cross the start line! Those 6+ minutes by the way were part of my time because chip timing had yet to be invented! After two miles of jumping over piles of discarded holey sweatshirts and tear away gym pants, we were in Brooklyn.
I remember running through Williamsburg where the Hassidic children watched us run by. They were absolutely silent – either in awe, in deference, or because they thought we were crazy. I felt like a rare animal on exhibit in the zoo being gawked at quite honestly.
I remember crossing over the Queensboro bridge and how the grated surface KILLED my feet. I remember coming into Manhattan and hearing the ROAR of the crowd, making me feel like an Olympian entering the Olympic stadium for my victory lap. I remember running up 1st Avenue and seeing my Dad. Writing about this moment brings tears to my eyes, actually. I’m not deep and thoughtful enough to articulate why exactly, but each time I think about this I well up (and no, my Dad is alive and well). There he was, exactly where I told him to be on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and 1st Avenue. He had pushed his way to the front, up against the barricades. Even though I don’t know this to be true, I can picture him saying to those standing beside him hoping to get a glimpse of their loved ones and friends, “pardon me, excuse me, my daughter should be by any time now. Do you mind if I come through. It’s her first marathon, you know. Isn’t that cool?” And I heard him. “Susan, Susan!” There he was, holding a banana in one hand and a Powerbar in the other just like I asked him to. As I passed by in the euphoria that accompanies many runners trekking up 1st Avenue just before they hit the Bronx and the infamous wall, I shook my head “no”, gave him a thumbs up, and continued onward. And just for a brief second, I saw his look change from one of elation at seeing me and being able to offer me some help in my marathon quest, to one of utter disappointment and defeat. I mean, give Bob an important task, a chance to help his first born daughter accomplish something he deems totally cool, and he is going to do that job fully and to the best of his abilities! The fact that I did not take the banana or the Powerbar from him meant that he didn’t do his job well enough. The look on his face is one that I imitate often whenever my sister and I poke good natured fun at our dear father as it makes me laugh every time! Now in my defense, remember Powerbars? Remember how hard and difficult they are to chew? Now imagine eating a frozen, rock hard Powerbar at mile 17 of the marathon? Yeah, no, thanks.
I remember entering Central Park and thinking, “oh my god there is no way I’m going to finish this thing.” A friend jumped in and ran the last 3 miles with me, ducking out just before the barricades near the finish line, just before the officials could see HER and disqualify ME. I remember grabbing onto her arm and saying, “stay with me or I won’t finish!” That’s a lot of pressure to place on somebody. I remember crossing the finish line and someone placing a medal around my neck. I remember walking 100 more miles to the family reunion area where I met my Mom, Dad and Sister. One of the last things I remember about that day wasn’t me thinking “holy crap, I just ran a marathon” or “wow, look at me, I’m awesome” but rather, me saying emphatically and with as much wind as I could muster: “NEV.ER.A.GAIN!”
Now, 16+ years, 9 marathons, 1 Ironman, 2 ultra-marathons, and many other events of significant distance later (some successful, some not so much), I still cannot articulate what makes me do it.
Am I competitive? Yup. Not so much with others directly, but mostly with myself. (Although I have to admit there are those frenemies that make me so nuts, I secretly enjoy plotting against them and running them into the ground – but that very rarely happens – I’m not that talented). My friend, Naoj, reveals that for her, deciding to run her first 1/2 marathon began with a competitive spirit. She heard people speak about races they were doing or races they had done and she thought, “I can do that.” But she admits her competitiveness turned into a feeling of awe, feeling humbled as she started to train and realized how difficult it was. She now feels a great deal of respect for those who have accomplished their goal no matter their time. I would like to add, that she should have a great deal of self respect for her accomplishments as well!
Do I like the attention long distance running brings? Yup. I don’t mean the attention a runner gets by wearing purple spandex tights and a bright orange jacket while running on public roadways for all the neighbors to see. I mean the attention you get from others who DON’T run like you do. Example: Friend, who already knows you’re crazy: “Nasus, how did your run go this weekend?” Nasus: “Really good until mile 28 and then I felt a bit tired.” Stranger who overhears conversation: “Did you say you ran 28 miles this weekend?” Friend who already knows you’re crazy but loves you anyway: “No, she didn’t run 28 miles this weekend, she ran 30. It was only at mile 28, that she started to feel tired.” Nasus doesn’t have to say anything else.
Do I enjoy the physicality of it all? Yup. When I’m not training for something, I feel lethargic, flabby and utterly gross. Whether or not I actually weigh less while training versus when I’m not is inconsequential. Charging through hill repeats, sprinting through a speed workout and sweating profusely during a tortuous tempo run make me feel strong, powerful and alive. The soreness after a difficult run reminds me that I am completely and utterly human. The mind’s ability to push the body beyond what it can comfortably do tells me that sometimes I might just be super-human. As my friend, Enna, explains, “Personally, I love the feeling I get knowing that I pushed my body to the limit. The pain and soreness after a hard workout or marathon thrills me. Am I weird for feeling this way? Come on…admit it…you love it too, right??” Yes, Enna, I do. I do love it too!
Does it fill a void? Yup. For my friend, Arual, a collegiate athlete turned Soccer-Mom, running and pushing herself to run either faster or further provides her with the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenge that competitive sports can offer. My friend Eninaj finds that once she starts, running becomes a “little” addicting. She remembers the run where she felt unstoppable and she continues because she wants to feel that way again. She does admit that it may not happen again for weeks or months but the remembrance does keep her coming back.
Is it intimately and sometimes painfully personal? Yup. Here’s what my friend Annod shared with me, “Ok so I decided to walk for Breast Cancer first. My younger brother had wanted to walk the Susan G Komen 3 day 60 miles with me. He had done the walk twice before with friends. Sadly my brother died before we could do this walk together. So I grew my hair for 2 years and gave it to Locks of Love, that was good but not enough. Next I did the Susan G Koman 3 day walk. After fundraising for that walk and actually finishing it, I realized I need goals that push my physical limits. I had spent a decade following goals of spiritual and intellectual nature. Those achievements were satisfying, but not as rewarding as walking 60 miles and so I decided to go for Triathlon. I trained for 8 months and succeeded. This was combined with fundraising too. So now I have a desire to improve on running and am training for a half marathon in April. I think each new goal is crazier than the last. For some reason the sense of accomplishment keeps me challenging myself.”
Do I love running with friends? Yup. My friend, Ydoj admitted that sometimes it’s just about meeting the right people at the right time that gives you the idea, the nudge, the permission to jump in with both feet. Deciding to embark on a personal journey of setting a goal, working hard to achieve it, and ultimately not knowing if you will be successful when you toe the line is sometimes better done with your friends by your side. As my friend, Nelle Nosnevets explains, “training and running long distances is something I think I can’t do or drag my feet in doing. But then with my friends’ presence, direction, support (and twisting of an arm here and there) I do it. I just do it! I am proud of my accomplishments, am grateful for the ME time I get while running, and totally enjoy the ‘episodes of running with friends.’ They inspire me.” For my friend, Eninaj, challenging herself does not come easy, it’s much easier for her to stay in her comfort zone because the fear of failure is very real even if it is self-imposed. Eninaj, likens running with friends to the “George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life, Effect”, stating that when she is surrounded by a group of friends who push their limits, it changes her outlook and makes her challenge herself more than she would have. In short, friends make your successes that much richer and your failures much easier to swallow. And in the case of a goal unrealized, your closest friends will understand that you are secretly plotting your revenge against said goal but will not ask you a single question about it, only patting you on the back, celebrating your redemption!
There are so many different reasons why someone decides to run a little faster, a little further – why someone decides to try something new, something scary. Earlier in this piece, I wrote my remembrance of my first marathon. Now, normally I remember very little if anything about my past experiences. Seriously, it’s infuriatingly true. For example, my family speaks of wonderful vacations we’ve all been on together and I swear I wasn’t there for most of them because I don’t remember them at all! The fact that I remember so much of my first marathon is a true testament to just how amazing it truly was! I heard a great quote a week ago at the Girls on the Run Summit: “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This resonated with me and I do believe that stepping out of my comfort zone enhances, enriches and makes my life sweeter. So if you’re asking, my recommendation would be for everyone to try something new this year, something uncomfortable, something you think you cannot do. I promise that nothing bad will result from this decision.* So sign up for a triathlon, sign up for a 10K, do a mud run, join a karate studio – whatever!** Just do it!
Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try. Eleanor Roosevelt: You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Yoda & Eleanor: 1 Comfort Zone: 0
*The author, Girls on the Run, and SoleMates are not responsible for other than positive outcomes of such action, including but not limited to: black toenails, chafing, sunburn, road rash, skinned knees, swimmer’s ear, blisters, etc.
**Only after seeking clearance to proceed with such activity from the following: your physician, your cardiologist, your proctologist, your horticulturist, your manicurist, your herbalist, your masseuse and Sensei Wu.Article Sources: My Dad Yoda Eleanor Roosevelt Girls on the Run Summit My friends: Naoj, Enna, Arual, Annod, Eninaj, Ydoj, Nelle Nosnevets