14 June 2015

Don't assume you know what progress looks like

Oh running, you are a fickle one.

Some of my recent runs have been amazing. I have done 4-milers which ended with me running (okay, jogging very slowly) up the 150' hill near my house. I couldn't do this a few months ago. I have done 3-milers that ended with me stumbling up the stairs to my front door, hoping the neighbors didn't think I was drunk. I even ran my first 10k race recently, which (to be fair) included a fair amount of walking, but it felt like a triumph anyway.

I'm still adjusting to being a marginally disabled runner. I say "marginally" because I don't look disabled at the beginning of a run, but sometimes I do at the end. Some days I feel pretty accepting of the whole thing, and sometimes I'm squarely in denial or bargaining mode. In my best moments I learn something from everything, and today on my run I saw a parallel between my intense desire to never be wrong, and my reticence to continue taking myself seriously as a runner.

Lately I hope that every run will be the magic run where I am like the Portia of two years ago who could just run forever. But I also know that it's unlikely, and in my more pathetic moments I think maybe I should just quit running while I still can, to preserve the memories of being a "normal runner," whatever the heck that is.

This morning, as I fished my running pack out of the back of the closet, I was planning for an 8-miler but at the back of my mind I knew that I might not be able to run 8 miles.  I chased those thoughts away, prepped my water bladder and pitted some dates (a whole food gu alternative), leashed up the dog and got going.

Things were going swimmingly at first. It was a beautiful day and running felt easy. But around mile 4 I started feeling the dreaded lazy feet; it feels like I can't pick my feet up, even though the rest of me feels fine. If I keep running, eventually I start tripping over my own toes and even when I start walking, I look a little tipsy. Then, severely drunk.

Instead of getting frustrated, I slowed to a walk and ate some dates. And I started thinking. What's so bad about walking during a run anyway? Why does it feel like such a failure? And then I realized that the act of setting out on an 8-mile run and being unable to finish it makes me feel Wrong. I was Wrong. I cannot run 8 miles. Wrong.

Ever since I was a kid, I have hated being wrong. Being wrong fills me with shame, and to avoid this I constantly fill the air with caveats about how I might be, am probably, could easily be wrong. It feels better to presage every statement with an excuse about how wrong I might be, because that means I will be Right! "See? I told you before, I was probably going to be wrong!" So I get to be right either way. Most importantly, I don't look stupid (a.k.a. Wrong, a.k.a. shameful) in front of other people.


When you avoid putting yourself in situations where you could be wrong, you might maybe miss out on trying something cool. You will avoid encounters with failure, and success. And everything else! Being chronically safe isn't very interesting.

So I'm there walking instead of running and I thought, "Who cares? It's a beautiful day. So I'm walking. So what. I was Wrong, and NO. ONE. CARES." I continued walking and jogging on and off for 7 miles. My mile splits went from 10:00 to 12:00 to 13:00 and then finally 17:00 for the last mile, which I mostly walked. But I did 7 miles, which is my longest run-like-thing since November.


Behind me is the familiar solid ground of caution, and in front of me is oh-my-god-I-have-no-idea. I have had this important realization with respect to running, which is great, but can I carry it over into the rest of my life? I think it could be quite awesome to live with the reckless possibility that I might occasionally be wrong. I could fail. If I could accept that, maybe I could try more things. See, I avoid trying stuff because it's possible that I could fail. Wrongness awaits. But... maybe... who cares?

Having an incurable degenerative brain disease is not awesome, but it's a fantastic teacher.

If you've read this far, you might want to check out these TED talks, which have no doubt influenced me recently: