76. Changing My Story

76. Changing My Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Changing My Story

Relish the bad training runs. Without them it’s difficult to recognize, much less appreciate, the good ones.
 ~Pat Teske

The marathon appeared on my cosmic to-do list in only my second year of running. The 26.2-mile run seemed like the perfect challenge to demonstrate to the world — and myself — my transformation from perennial fat girl to healthy runner. Not only would I complete the marathon, I thought, but I would run it in my conservative, but still respectable, goal time.

But just a few weeks before the race, my marathon dreams crashed down around me after the worst run of my life.

The afghan blanket was pulled up to my chin. My legs were elevated with extra pillows at the end of the couch and my ankles and knees were packed in ice. I couldn’t stop the tears. The goal had been to run for 3 hours and 15 minutes — my final long run before beginning to taper for the marathon. I had pace goals and intentions of completing the workout perfectly so that mentally I would be confident and focused for the biggest physical challenge of my life.

Only, I completely broke down.

My knees started hurting. My pace slowed. I started crying during the run. A flood of negative thoughts that started as whispers turned into forceful shouts. Who was I to start running at age thirty-four? Who was I to run a marathon? Who was I to call myself an athlete?

The 3 hours and 15 minutes ticked off painfully and slowly. I slogged through the cold May morning in western New York State, wondering if I even had the right to call what I was doing “running.”

I had always believed the innate qualities needed to be an athlete were missing from my genetic code. I had started running to challenge myself, to see what might happen if I tried. While huddled on the couch packed in ice after breaking down on what was supposed to be my marathon “test run,” feelings of failure swept over me.

A few days later, my friends were trying to cheer me up, relating tales of their own training breakdowns and catastrophic races. I had met all these people through running. A run with one led to meeting another and another and another. Eventually, I found that I had created a new tribe for myself — one that was positive and encouraging. A tribe of people who believed in me even when I doubted myself.

Feeling a sense of security, I shared with them my “fat pictures” — photos from my college years when I was fifty pounds heavier. Weight was always an issue for me and the buffet line at the dining hall coupled with late night pizza and beer meant I easily packed on the pounds.

“Look how fat I was,” I pointed out.

“But still pretty,” my friend, Sue, said. Funny. That never occurred to me. I was fat. How could I be pretty? Even now, my figure flaws were plenty. There were numerous areas where the loss of a few pounds would make me look better and might even make me a faster runner.

Sue’s comment triggered an idea. During the marathon, along with my gels, I would carry one of those fat photos. At some point on the course, I would ball it up and throw it away. I would forget about the fat pictures.

The marathon wall hit me around Mile 16. What started as a cloudy May morning with drizzle turned into a humid, sun-blazing affair. And by the time I got to Mile 22, I was near tears. My pace was all wrong, just like that horrible, horrible run a few weeks earlier. I was in pain. I was walking. I was terribly upset with myself.

Reaching into my pocket to take another gel, my hand brushed against my fat photo. This was the place to dump it. I took it out, looked at it and said goodbye. The photo crumpled easily in my now gooey hand and floated through the air as I tossed it into the garbage can.

What was I saying goodbye to? Oddly enough, I wasn’t bidding adieu to my former fat self. Because running had taught me that it was never about the weight. It was only about how I chose to define myself.

I could be a runner anytime I wanted, at any pace I wanted, if only that’s what I believed. It didn’t matter how fast I was going, or if I was walking, or where I placed in my age group. It didn’t matter how fast or slow anybody else ran. The comparison and the final time are just for our amusement — a game to keep us interested. The running, I learned, was about the doing and the being. Being attached to any specific outcome was yet another way to impose a limiting definition on myself. And running was teaching me to be open to possibilities, not closed up with old patterns.

I threw away the old picture, not to rid my existence of my former self but to exorcise the way in which I viewed myself — past and present. I threw away those old definitions. I decided I was an athlete. I decided I was a runner. And I decided that no matter how long it took me to finish my first marathon, no one could denigrate that accomplishment except for me. I threw away the self-doubt and comparisons at that water stop.

I continued for the next 4.2 miles grateful for that horrible training run. Grateful that it broke me, that it made me question who my authentic self really was. As my foot bled from blisters and my muscles burned from the miles, I knew I had been here before. And this time, I knew the way out.

~Amy Moritz

More stories from our partners