Monday, January 12, 2009

My Multiple Left Feet

I have never considered myself athletic by any stretch of the imagination.

I don't know for sure, but I would guess that Vinny inherited his late onset of walking from both parents, not just Jeff (whose mother has confirmed that he didn't walk until 17 months). I was always tall, which didn't help in the coordination department either.

Growing up, I was always self-conscious about my body and its lack of coordination. Anything academic or musical came effortlessly, so I wasn't accustomed to the idea of having to actually try or work hard at something. Instead, I was embarrassed and felt like any complex physical activity would be impossible.

Another thing working against me was my mom's outlook on her own body. She apologized multiple times for being so unathletic and children inherit their athleticism from their mothers, so.... It just confirmed what I believed about myself: I could never do anything athletic in nature.

I was able to rationalize around it quite beautifully. I didn't want to do it anyhow. I had better things to spend my time on. I had a brain to cultivate and my body was little more than a vessel in which my brain was stored.

This type of rationalization is a trap that many otherwise intelligent people fall into. When things get hard, we stop trying, because it's somehow safer to fail outright than to chance failing while trying. "If I'd tried," we rationalize, "I could have succeeded." As I always said to myself, I could be an athlete if I tried. I just don't want to put in that much effort.

It wasn't until I had to develop some actual study habits (i.e., in graduate school) that I began to put that rationalization to rest. I progressed through graduate school because I took a chance on learning to study, and risked failing while trying.  My success in that endeavor helped put the first cracks in the wall of rationalization.

And as I matured as a person and got more in touch with my own desires (something that was accelerated by my parents' divorce and the countless hours of therapy that followed), I realized that I had always wanted to learn karate. Finally I got up the courage to take that risk, and went on to be remarkably successful in karate, earning a brown belt and even teaching children's karate.

Another athletic dream I have long held is the desire to run a marathon. I remember watching the 2004 Olympic marathons, transfixed. I thought to myself, if I could learn karate, what could stop me from learning to run a marathon?

Oh, Rebecca, I said to myself, you don't even know where to begin. Plus, you have weak knees and you are still too overweight.

I didn't learn how to run a marathon at that time, but I did begin running a little bit. I ran to my bus stop every day (a distance of only a couple of blocks), and I checked out a couple of books on running and read them. I listened to some of my peers talk about running and asked them questions. But I never took the leap. I soon graduated, moved to Tennessee, started my new job, had a baby, and then took another job. But the desire never left me.

Then, last month I was talking to one of my colleagues about her training for the upcoming half-marathon at the end of March. She asked me if I was interested in training for it. I took a deep breath and confessed to her my secret desire, but explained that I had never run more than a mile. Realistically, I would not be able to train up to a half-marathon between now and then.

She then asked me whether I'd be interested in training up to a 5K for starters, and then work on getting to a longer distance after that. I said yes, but that I needed to get a good sports bra before I could even think about running. So we agreed on a date by which I would have all the necessary gear.

I've been training for a week now, and I can already feel myself improving.  The first day, I thought I would never resume breathing normally.  Today, covering the same distance but doing more running than last week, I was only somewhat winded.  Gradually we will work up to longer and longer runs, culminating in a 5K at the end of March.


rachel said...

You go!

Madeleine said...

That's marvelous!

Go Rebecca!

Jane said...

Good for you!

Ginger said...

Good luck. I know you can do it.

Laura said...

That is so awesome Becca! I'm excited for you! Keep it up and be sure you have good shoes. :-)

ScienceGirl said...

That is great! If you are looking for advice that will help you in the beginning as well as in the long run, I recommend DoctorMama's running advice posts. I have started running many times before, but it wasn't until I followed her advice that I was able to stick to it and improve. You will do great!

Anonymous said...

Good for you!

Also, I've read some magazine pieces about how children are praised and how that affects what they will try and do well at. It took you, and many people I know who are exceptionally talented in some areas, a long time before ever applying yourself to something that you didn't see a natural ability for, like athletic pursuits. There even becomes a serious barrier to trying, because we are so uncomfortable with failure, or the prospect of failure. But it's hard to succeed in life without being willing to try things you may not be good at to start, and it's definitely good for even an "unathletic" child to have some regular exercise.

For this reason, they've determined that children do better when they are praised for their hard work, and for trying things, rather than for doing well at things. For example, when they do really great, you point out how hard they worked to get there, or how they practiced and practiced to bring their natural ability to that level, instead of just saying "You're great at X." When you praise them in that manner, they will do better at trying a variety of things and at working with confidence towards gaining new skills.