I am not a runner. That's what I've told myself for years. It came to light last year when someone asked me if I was a runner. I quickly replied, "I'm not a runner - I've had orthotic supports since high school, patella tendinitis since college and both ankles have been twisted more than I can count." The person asked, "Then what do you do for exercise?" I replied, "I play basketball every chance I get." The last 15 months have been a linear journey for me to sort through the incongruity of my reply and challenge my own assumptions about myself to question the extent to which I was not a runner...here in the land of the Boilermaker.
In May of 2008, I was inspired by the College's efforts to organize the annual Ted Moore 5K run/walk and I ran the 5K. This was the first time I had intentionally run any distance of note since 7th grade track tryouts. However, I found myself changing after finishing the Ted Moore run - maybe I'm more of a runner than I thought I was. A few months later I ran the 5K Boilermaker - an experience that prompted various people to encourage me to run the full 15K Boilermaker. During this eternal spring of 2009, I started to train most weeks by getting in a 2-3 mile run during the week and sometimes a 4 or 5 mile run (although I was hoping to work up to 8 miles) on Sundays. As the Boilermaker came closer, I began to doubt myself. My body would always let me down on the long training runs - I began to tell myself that little 5K runs were it for me. I wasn't a runner.
The week prior to the Boilermaker registration deadline was filled with nearly everyone to whom I had mentioned that I was remotely considering running the 15K finding time to ask me, "Are you running the Boilermaker? You won't regret it. You have to do it just once." And, in a moment, I was registered for the 15K. The morning of the Boilermaker I simply committed myself to finishing the race. I had the good fortune of spending time at the starting line with professor George Searles - running his 25th Boilermaker! - who said, "Just listen to your body and you'll be fine." About three miles into the race if I would have listened to my body I would have hailed a cab. However, a few miles later my body had worked through the pains in my feet, calves and knees and I found myself finishing much stronger than I anticipated.
Throughout the race I thought about the process that brought me to running the Boilermaker. Through one lens, it was a clear microcosm of the general change process that we go through with anything in our personal and professional lives. An initial sense of believing in my limitations and becoming prisoner to my own excuses inhibited my view of the possibilities. Subsequently drawing on the positive energy of those around me helped me to question some of my assumptions and focused me on my potential - I could begin to see myself running the 15K.
After all, I enjoyed the 5K last year and the 15K is just longer, right? To make it possible, I had to come up with a plan to train and give myself a chance. As the race got closer, I got scared and the excuses started to haunt me again and helped all the doubts return. Finally, just taking the risk to register and setting a realistic goal of finishing got me to cross the start line and push on to the finish line that I thought I'd never see. When I crossed the finish line and walked down that runner's chute, my own perception of myself had changed - I am a runner.
If you have any thoughts on this post, the Boilermaker or change in general, contact me at email@example.com.