May 7, 2019
“I’ve got a perfect body, though sometimes I forget. I’ve got a perfect body cos my eyelashes catch my sweat” (Regina Spektor – Folding Chair)
This is me, seconds away from the finish line at the Rocket Run on Saturday about to take 1 minute off my 5k PB, and about to break the sub 25 minute goal. For context, my goal which I set at the start of the year was to break 30 minutes for a 5k, only I ended up taking part in RED (run every day) and making progress quicker than anticipated so I reset the goals.
I’ve looked at this photo a lot since it was taken. It’s easy to see the flaws; my running technique isn’t good, and my eyes are half shut. Yet when I look closer I also see the body of someone who has worked hard to accomplish the goals she set for herself. Someone who went into a race injured, and achieved something that for me, was incredibly important.
I’m a woman who’s had issued with her body for more than a quarter of a century. I’ve been too fat, too thin, and everything in between. At school I was often picked last for sports activities, especially ones that required cardiovascular fitness (I was okay at chucking a javelin), and frequently made excuses to avoid running. I never once thought I would find myself years later describing myself as a runner.
Yet here I am, running.
I have spent years hating my body. Punishing it, judging it, misusing it, and being disconnected from it in a way which meant I never really understood it. For a long time my brain and my body were separate, each warring with each other, without ever really being conscious of the disconnect. I’ve lived in a disassociated state for most of my life, and for a long time without even realising.
Then I took up roller derby and slowly started to understand how the two linked together. I learned what my muscles did, and how tiny tweaks to movements created massive changes on skates. I had to learn to trust my body to act quickly and to respond to cognitive cues to be able to skate. Later I started to run, and had to learn how to manage my lungs and my breathing. Slowly but surely I started to find a way to connect by brain and body as one. But perhaps more importantly I started to see my body as a machine, rather than something to hate. I learned with time, patience, and a bucket tonne of grit (and a lot of money on sports physio to try and keep my body in one piece) I could challenge it to do more, to push a bit harder, a bit faster.
Perhaps more importantly, I also learned to stop saying ‘I can’t’. For the past 3 years I have been telling myself I can’t run 5k without walking bit of it (turns out I can run 10 miles without walking, and I aim to make that 13.1 this year); that I can’t run at a pace faster than 6:45 a km (turns out I can run sub 5:00 per km); that I can’t claim to be a real runner (as if that’s even some kind of thing). It’s all lies I’ve told myself to avoid failing.
I’m not going to say Brené Brown made myself a better runner, but reading Daring Greatly and reflecting on who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life made me take stock of the ways in which I was holding myself back. How the lies I told myself stopped me from achieving. I made me a better runner, but Brené gave me a few wake up calls about being brave and ‘stepping into the arena’.
The other thing I realised (and it’s the bit I’m still working on) is that I am lousy at celebrating my successes. The other morning I woke up after a night of fitful sleep in which I’d had fear dreams about failing on an essay and recounted this to my wife who quipped ‘your complete lack of self confidence is amazing’. That one example sums up my whole being. I doubt my abilities in everything, and when I do well, I feel like it’s boasting to be proud. It’s an all or nothing place that holds me back in all manner of ways.
So I also vowed that 2019 was going to be the year I was my own biggest cheerleader. That I was going to post proudly about my achievements, and not see pride as a negative thing. This weekend I not only broke my 5k target, I beat the sub 55 minute goal I’d set for myself for 10k too, and I took part in 3 races in 2 days, on an IT band that’s shot.
So here’s me. Recognising my body as a tool. As something imperfectly perfect, that lives and breathes, and moves me around and allows me to live life to the full. Here’s me, daring greatly.
Here’s me. A runner.