It’s not a sprint…

I ran the Evening Echo Women’s Mini Marathon today. I say ‘ran’ it, but it was actually barely a jog and it took me about an hour. That said, I’m pretty happy with myself. Having missed quite a few practice runs during the last few months, I thought I might just have to walk some or all of it. In the end though, I managed to keep it at a light jog for the full 4 miles.

When I thought I wouldn’t be able to jog the whole thing, I had forgotten two things. First, I forgot that, when it comes to exercise, I can almost always do more than I think I can. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked at a bar, thought, “Jeez, I don’t know if I’ll be able to lift this”, and then pulled eight reps no bother. Convincing myself to let me try is half the battle.

The other thing I had forgotten is the good old second wind. I forgot that, with endurance exercise, it can feel harder and harder for a while, but then, just when you think you’re about to die, there comes a magical moment when it gets easier and you feel like you could keep going forever. In my limited training runs, I’d been doing shorter intervals of jogging, with walk breaks in between. Eight minutes, ten minutes, twelve minutes. Some of those intervals felt pretty tough, so much so that I wondered how I had ever been able to jog for an hour straight and very much doubted I’d ever be able to do so again. But then, about a week before the race, I thought, “F**k it, let’s just try.” I threw on the runners, did a few stretches and just headed off at a slow — VERY slow — jog, to see how far I could go.

At the half mile mark, I was thinking of packing it in. My legs felt like iron and I couldn’t find a rhythm. Around the mile mark, I had warmed up a bit, and it started to feel just about manageable. I settled in and counted my breaths: in-two-three-four, out-two-three-four. Any time I felt a bit tired, I just slowed down even more. Slow and steady, slow and steady, I told myself. Just keep going. I tried to run mindfully, paying attention to my body, watching for the first signs of discomfort twisting into pain. I don’t mind pushing myself especially when it comes to cardio and endurance, which are weak points for me. But I want to listen to my body, so I don’t push beyond my limits and end up sick or injured.

I was okay, though. I was pushing myself a bit, but not too much. I was at a comfortable level of discomfort, so to speak. A little out of breath, but still just about able to hum a song. Legs working, but not hurting. At the outer edge of my comfort zone, but just about still in it. After a while, I realised I’d passed mile 3 somewhere back the road without even really noticing. I headed back towards home, finishing what turned out to be about a 3.5 mile loop. Sure, my legs were a bit knackered, but I had no more doubts that I could jog four miles. Sometimes things get easier if you just keep going, but you won’t know that until you try.

This reminds me of the way I eat, and the way other people sometimes respond to the way I eat. I don’t diet. I gave that up years ago, along with other forms of food-based self harm. But, as a compulsive eater, I have learned that there are certain foods I cannot eat just one of. Chocolate bars, for example. If I have one, I want another, and another, and another … I lose all control and perspective. So I just don’t eat them any more. Not one bite. Ever. Not at Christmas, not on my birthday — really, truly, never. When I say this, people often respond by saying, “I could never do that.” But just two weeks ago, I would have told you — in fact, I DID tell people — that I couldn’t possibly jog 4 miles non-stop. I’d forgotten that, like a lot of things, jogging gets easier after a while. There can be challenging moments, but then you get a second wind, you get into a rhythm, and after a while it almost feels easier to keep going than to stop. For me, eating healthily is a lot like this. Just keep on keeping on no matter what.

You  may not either want or need to give up chocolate or any other food. After all, I am recovering from an eating disorder; by definition, I’m kind of an extreme case! But just don’t tell yourself you couldn’t. You’d be surprised what you can do in any facet of self-care and personal development — especially when you keep trying for long enough to start feeling the benefits. Whether it’s exercise, healthy eating, meditation or anything else, if it’s honestly not for you, that’s fine. But if you’re not sure, keep an open mind about what you can do. Don’t assume you can’t do something just because you never have. Most of us are vastly stronger, tougher and braver than we think. Most of us would probably be blown away by what we can be and do if we are only willing to try.