When I was going into 9th grade I transitioned from homeschooling to public school. My parents thought it would be a good idea if I joined a team sport to make friends. In theory, this was a great idea. Sports build confidence…or so I’m told. If you’ve ever met me you know that I should be kept as far away from athletic endeavors as humanly possible. I rarely walk two feet without tripping over my own two feet. My hand eye coordination is less than non-existent. I am a lethal combination of uncoordination and chronic self-doubt. So putting me on a field or court of any kind is a fairly ill-advised endeavor from the get-go.
But my parents encouraged me to join a team anyways. And since you basically have to come out of the womb playing soccer and running with sticks clearly eliminated field hockey and lacrosse my fall sport of choice was volleyball. Now, you’d think that the most intimidating part of this ordeal would be the whole connecting-arm-movement-with-ball thing, or perhaps the fact that I would be meeting my new group of peers while flailing my limbs aimlessly in the middle of a gymnasium. But the part that freaked me out the most was the dreaded timed mile. I had never run a mile in my life. Ever. So the prospect of running ONE WHOLE MILE in ten minutes or less was far more troublesome to me than the inevitable lack of grace that would accompany my actually playing volleyball. My dad and I drove around our neighborhood measuring a mile loop by speedometer. I winced just thinking about covering the same distance on foot. But after a few weeks of practice I was able to run the whole way, coming in just around the 10 minute mark. I even beat some people when it came time to run it for tryouts!
My volleyball career was extremely short-lived (a gift I’m sure the coaches are still grateful for). I figured that my running career was also over…until I found out that in public school, students are required to run “the mile” twice per year in gym class as part of physical fitness testing. And oh, were those four laps on the outdoor track ever torture or WHAT. I remember during my senior year in high school vowing to never run another mile in my life after completing the 8th and final miracle mile.
Then I graduated from college and ran a half-marathon.
Oh, life. You’re so funny.
But the really funny thing is that I’ve held onto that 10 minute mile identity ever since the first mile around my neighborhood during the summer before 9th grade. I learned to associate one mile with 10 minutes. It became so engrained that I never thought to push past the 10 minute mark. All through high school my mile time hovered a few seconds above or below 10 minutes because that was my benchmark. As long as I reached it I was happy with the result. My half marathon time was set to a 10 minute mile pace and I crossed the finish line just prior to clocking exactly 130 minutes of pavement pounding – or approximately 10 minute miles the whole way.
(Creature of habit: Party of one.)
After the half marathon I was bored with running long distances so I started to do some interval training to spice things up. And even though I’d run the sprint sections at an 8 or 9 minute mile pace I’d never do more than a quarter mile at a time. Because in my mind, I run 10 minute miles. That’s my mile time.
Last Wednesday at the gym I walked into the cardio room to find that all of Rochester had come to work out as well. I had my hopes set on the Arc Trainer but found only one lonely treadmill available for use. I was suddenly very annoyed. I reluctantly started running quarter mile intervals. After getting a grip I ran the first mile, came up with a plan for two more miles, and ended up running three strong miles of intervals, several at an 8 minute pace. I was content with my workout. I was watching Paula Deen make Coffee Chocolate Cherry Sundaes as I walked to cool down. I was anticipating the pork tenderloin with cranberry sauce just waiting for me to come join it for dinner. And then I thought a thought that couldn’t be unthought.
“I wonder if I could run an 8 minute mile?”
And then I thought, “CRAP.” Because I knew as soon as I thought it, there would be no going back. It would feel like failure and I’m crazy like that. So once I caught back up to an even number on the mileage counter I started off…and immediately started second guessing what a great idea this was. Literally, my head was filled to the brim with internal reprimands. “Seriously…this is stupid. You are never going to make it for a full mile at this pace. You should probably stop now before you throw up on that guy next to you.”
I was on the fence until I hit the half mile mark, and then I was all in. (Which, unfortunately, speaks to the heart of the way I usually commit: I wait until I can see success to really dive in. One of the many reasons why I started this blog was to combat that regrettable characteristic.) I focused on Sports Center. I saw a Packers story coming up in the timeline and honed in on that. I watched it drop closer and closer…but before it aired I was done.
I ran an 8 minute mile.
And I didn’t even toss my cookies on the guy next to me!
The great part: I won a victory 10 years in the making. The sad part: I SO could have won the same victory 10 years ago…because it wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected it to be. The hardest part was getting over my self-imposed limitations. The actual running wasn’t bad at all, it was getting past that first half and all of the doubts I held onto so tightly that was the majority of the battle. It was all in my head. Which begs the question: what else do I just think I can’t do? What else am I preventing from happening solely because I don’t believe it can happen?
Now I’m sure all of you athletic people can probably run 8 minute miles in your sleep. (You can probably connect your forearms with an oncoming object without breaking into hives, too. I wish I had your genes.) I realize that my one little mile is not going to make the front page news anytime soon, but it’s an accomplishment that I’ll keep in the forefront of my thoughts for awhile. Because I may be a hott mess when it comes to all things coordinated, I may fall on my face repeatedly for no apparent reason, I might run 10 minute miles for 10 years just because I have preconceived notions about what I can and cannot do. But on Wednesday I learned that in spite of all of those things, when I commit, when I actually believe that something more is possible, it turns out it is.
Here’s to finding out what else is possible.