I’m trying to become a runner.
It’s not easy – party because I’m out of shape generally, and partly because I don’t and haven’t ever seen myself this way.
I don’t like being sweaty or uncomfortable (it doesn’t feel satisfying or productive. I never come out and say “look how gross I am! I must have done a lot!”) I’m not particularly skilled at pushing myself past the point where I become uncomfortable. And my mind is very…loud…when it comes to running.
“what if you get injured?”
“you’re too fat for this”
“We’re so tired. You should stop. What you’ve done already is enough”
“it’s too late”
“it’s too early”
“it’s too cold”
But at some point in 2018, I had a revelation.
It had literally never occurred to me that there were mechanics to running.
That sounds crazy in retrospect. I would never assume that skilled swimmers swam like that the second they got dropped into a pool. Or that an accomplished skier whizzed down a double black diamond on their first day on the slopes.
I think I thought that being a good runner was just all about strength and perseverance. If you just do it enough – the muscles will develop, it will become easier, you’ll break through barriers, etc. Which is probably true – to a degree.
But I don’t think that’s how people run marathons.
Significant undertakings require planning and strategy. They require tools. Not to use the same word twice, but, it truly was a revelation that there were tools for running. Foot placement. Upper body movement. Knee drive. Alignment.
When I started working with an audio fitness platform (not to be named, since this isn’t really about that), I started hearing the phrase “mid foot strike” from all the trainers, but particularly a fiery redhead named Meg. I ignored her. I’ve only ever run heel to toe. My heel drive is hard, even when I’m just walking. The idea of running on my toes sounded bonkers. When I cautiously tried to make the adjustment, it was super uncomfortable and I gave it up pretty quickly. I thought, “Now, that can’t be right.”
But Meg’s voice in my ear was relentless. Eventually, I found a video she posted on her instagram account (@meg_takacs) and watched a slow-motion video of her foot hitting the treadmill. Her heel barely touched it at all.
Committing to the adjustment hurt, which is probably why I didn’t want to do it (see previous notes about disliking states of discomfort). When I changed the mechanics, muscles that had never been involved in me running before protested hugely. I felt sure I wasn’t doing it right.
Eventually, it sort of clicked. I did a whole run on my toes. Over time, muscles acclimated, and I began feeling… buoyant. It became dramatically easier to run. And my mind was opened to the thought that, like any new skill, I had to yield to being a student of running. It turns out the beginning is, in fact, a pretty good place to start.
Even with these tools and this revelation, 2018 wasn’t a great year for me fitness wise. It became too much about weight loss, too tied to my wedding (more on this later), too stressful with the demands of work and I tucked it away, out of sight and out of mind for big swaths of time. But when I ran, I ran with this voice in my ear, and with every—admittedly erratic—run, the drum beats of repetition pounded these basic mechanics into my mind and body.
A couple of months ago, I went for a run on the boardwalk at Coney Island. About 10 minutes into a 45-minute run, my Bluetooth headphones died. Instantly, I felt like Dumbo without his feather. I got scared. Without the voice in my ear, all my mental monsters sprang back to life as though they had never been silenced. I instantly wanted to stop. Go home. Get different headphones. Put it off until tomorrow. I can’t do it without the prompts.
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
I took a deep breath. I took a step, and then another. I kept running. I realized I knew what I was supposed to do – Meg had told me before she was so rudely silenced. Four, ten-minute increments of steady pace with one minute of walking in between. My watch was clicking away on my wrist. I could watch my own time. I could do this.
And forty-five minutes later when I finished the run, I felt INVINCIBLE.
It’s not that I didn’t need Meg in my ear, it’s that she had taught me so well I could, in fact, maintain it on my own. As I ran, my own brain parroted back my new groundwork in mechanics, almost like a pop quiz. It was as though Meg had said, “Let’s see how much you’ve learned” and unplugged.
I got tired and my own brain reminded me that my mechanics would get me through.
I watched my own clock.
I matched the cadence of my upper body, breath, and feet.
I thought about my knee drive.
I thought about my foot strike and alignment.
I pushed through the point where I wanted to stop.
And guess what, my fastest mile was one of the ones I did on my own.
I felt powerful. I felt changed. I felt stronger. I was aware of having grown.
It felt like the athletic equivalent of the old proverb about teaching a man to fish. “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” I learned I could fish. That I could run on my own, push myself, trust myself, and get the work done.
I’m still learning, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to have the trainer back with me on my next run. I know I have miles (both literal and figurative) to go. I’ve learned that it’s a good thing to need a teacher. And that the inspiration of that teacher can stretch beyond the immediate subject and far deeper into your life. But I also know I can do it on my own. That I control the outcome of things I start. I can begin them, and I can finish them.
Footnote: While this post is about my own journey, I would be remiss to not to take a moment to give direct and exceedingly loud and heartfelt gratitude to Meg – one of the fiercest, most inspiring women I have the pleasure of witnessing, even from a distance. Should you be interested in more from her, look her up on instagram (@meg_takacs) and/or check out her website https://www.meghantakacs.com/ for more.