As part of my #Skirt Sports Ambassadorship, we have opportunities to complete certain “challenges” and receive points toward rewards. I am enjoying the challenges, which range from posting a review of a Skirt product on social media, to posting a funny ode to your first Skirt product, to posting about a #NeverDo. This last one means posting about some activity you said you’d “never do” and then did anyway, and what happened next. When I started thinking about a #NeverDo to post about, the first activity to pop into my brain was the one pictured above: completing a Tough Mudder for my 40th birthday. Shortly thereafter, another one occurred to me: completing a duathlon.
And then another: training for and completing my first full marathon.
It then struck me that all of these #NeverDos (and the certainly aren’t the only ones that come to mind) were just from last year! In fact, I can easily list off more than half a dozen #NeverDos I’ve undertaken in the last 4 years since I started running. Which got me thinking about my most seminal #NeverDo, which was, surprisingly, running! The unexpected and funny thing about running is it’s sort of a gateway drug. I started out pounding pavement, then I began hitting trails, then I began hiking, then I began camping as a single mom with two little boys, then I tried my hand at bike riding and multi-sport, then I began practicing hot yoga, and now I’m beginning to try to overcome my very deep-seeded fear of being upside down by trying to learn handstands and inversions.
What is it about running, unlike other sports or exercise I’ve been involved in, that invites us to explore challenges we never thought we would be brave enough to try? It seems a pretty common theme in our sport: running seems to bolster our confidence and push us to face our fears or, as we say in Buddhism, lean into the sharp edges. Perhaps it is something about the independent nature of running. While my running community is wonderful and a huge part of why I’ve stuck with running (another topic for another post), and I do run in groups, running is, at the end of the day, a singular activity. It is a test of wills between your body, your mind, and the road or trail. Really, running is about pushing yourself. It is about meeting your preconceived edges and sometimes, pushing past those edges. Sometimes you realize you’ve landed somewhere your body and/or mind aren’t quite ready to be, and hopefully, you pull back before injury. Sometimes, you find yourself in a new space that, while you’re uncomfortable being in it because it’s unfamiliar, is still a place you can spend some time in, be it short or long, and learn something about yourself. I think that we challenge ourselves every time we put on our running shoes; challenge ourselves to find out where our limits are on that particular day, and show up to meet them, if not exceed them just a little bit. These limits change from day to day based on a multitude of factors, and part of the challenge (and one I particularly struggle with) is checking in with your body and mind to see where you are on that day. Are you getting over an illness or injury? Are you struggling with an emotional trauma, big or small? What do you need that day for your body and mind? By engaging in these practices, you create new habits, and you create a new and more expansive and less constricted path for your brain and body to follow. More succinctly, once you get used to setting goals you thought were out of reach and smashing them, it gets easier to say “yes” to other things in all areas of your life that you thought were out of reach or too scary to attempt.
Dialing it all the way back, though, the Queen of my #Neverdos was running. After I lost my first child in a second trimester miscarriage in 2008, I decided to do a Couch-to-5K training program with the goal of running the Freihofers Race for Women – one of the largest women’s-only 5Ks in the world. I’m lucky enough that this wonderful race takes place in the city I live in. A college friend of mine encouraged me to train for it and run it with her. Although, I had run the 800 meters in middle school and early high school, I was not a runner, and was in the “I hate running” club as an adult. I had told myself “I’m not a runner, I don’t run, my body isn’t built for running” for years, so I believed it. My then-husband, he was the runner, the marathoner. I was an enthusiastic and dedicated cheerleader, showing up at races with signs and cowbells, plotting routes on the race courses so I could see him multiple times during a marathon. But, me? I didn’t run. I didn’t do much of anything, really. I wrote sometimes. I had been a singer and theater nerd in high school and college. But, I was 31 and I was a wife and trying to have a baby and working full time. That was my life.
After losing the baby, I was chemically and emotionally depressed. Plus, I had some baby weight to lose and no baby to nurse and help take the weight off. So, setting a goal seemed like a good way to combat that depression and help combat the wacky hormonal shifts and cortisol with some good ol’ exercised-induced endorphins? I trained for that 5K on a dreadmill at a local YMCA during the dreary, cold winter in upstate NY. This was before I had a smartphone and the dreadmill didn’t even have a TV on it, because it was before those were common. I printed out the C25K schedule on a piece of paper that I brought to the gym on my workout days and I plugged into my zune (seriously) and struggled through the program. The race was in early June and I waited too long to transfer to outdoor running, thinking it would be the same as being on the dreadmill (spoiler alert: it’s not). By the time I started running outside in May, I HATED it and I didn’t think could do the race at all. I had no idea how to pace and the crumbling post-winter road was far less forgiving on my legs and joints than the treadmill. But, I had committed to my friend and paid the entry fee already, so I basically ran once or twice outside and then stopped running until race day because it was too hard (this is not a good strategy, by the way). I ran that race. It was hot and oh so humid, as June often is here. Pictures of me taken on the digital camera by my then-husband show me red-faced and sweating like a pig, with a forced smile on my face. I finished the race in 38:17 (the slowest road 5K I’ve ever run), and I hated every step of it. I didn’t even stop my self-induced pity party long enough to notice I was running with 3,000+ other women of all shapes, sizes and abilities and enjoy the energy surrounding what is a really inspiring and wonderful race (I have run it many times since). When I was done, I gave up running FOREVER.
The story of how I came back to running many years (and two healthy children) later, is a long one and not for this blog post. But my initial #NeverDo became my #AlwaysDo which, in turn, opened the door to so many other #NeverDos, some of which are listed above. I picked the top picture in this post of me during Tough Mudder Philly last year because I love the raw strength and joy it portrays. There I am carrying my male friend on my back up a hill as we are both covered in mud and, unlike that pic from my first 5K almost 10 years ago, I am not forcing a fake smile; I am legitimately thrilled with the fact that I’m doing this crazy thing I said I would never do and I’m slaying it. I don’t look at that picture and think, as I often have when I look at race pictures, “I look fat,” or one of the many other versions of seeing only the things I want to change; I think only “I am a true bad ass.” If it weren’t for tackling my initial #NeverDo of running, I can’t even comprehend how much life I would have missed out on these last years, not to mention how many friendships I would be lacking. It has changed my perspective on my capacity to face the unknown bravely and helped me to re-define what strength is.
Every January, I lay out my fitness goals for the year in my Believe Training Journal. Some are flexible, some are just sketches of a vague dream, and there’s always at least one that is a #NeverDo. Last year, the biggest one was completing my first full marathon. Having achieved that, this year, I turn my attention to trails (running trails was another #NeverDo of mine when I started running & now they are my first love) and chase down my first 25K as a stepping stone to my first ultra, which I hope to take on next year. And I’ll keep chasing down that handstand and leaning into that fear of being upside down (which, my yoga teachers assure me, is a pretty common fear). Every day, I practice gratitude. Well, almost every day. Chasing after those #NeverDos helps me with that practice.
What are your #NeverDos? Pick one. Lay out a plan to work toward and achieve it, even if just once. That plan will likely involve others: people who have done it before and can help you achieve it, support people who believe in your capacity to achieve whatever it is you wish to do, and idiots who tell you you can’t do it or that you’re crazy, which will just help you double down your efforts to succeed. Write it down, plan it, and start working on it. Hell, leave it in the comments. Just put it out into the world. Today. Right now. Because no matter what, chasing down that #NeverDo will transform you. I guarantee it.