As a child, if I couldn't do something perfectly right away, I decided I couldn't do it at all. So after many failed adult romances and a long exclusive affair with the elliptical machine, I never thought I could have a stable relationship or run a half-marathon. But with the guidance of my body and my boyfriend, I proved myself wrong by starting slow.
I met Paul in the wake of a rough, drawn-out break-up. My wounds had yet to heal and I so desperately wanted to bandage them with new, exciting love, the all-consuming, almost bullying kind that lifts you by the collar and drags you wide-eyed through the day. My past boyfriends and I had rushed "the l word" in a hurricane of quick commitment. "Love" meant connection. "Love" meant security. But what did it mean that all those relationships had fizzled so quickly?
In true me fashion, I told Paul I loved him early on; he was happily surprised and moved by my emotions, but he wasn't ready to say it back. Paul was a rational, reasonable man (the first I had ever dated); he sheltered his emotions deep within him. I kind of understood, but I still felt deflated, whiplashed by my hard expectations crashing against an even more rigid reality. Doubt overtook me daily. A year passed with only "I love being with you," and it nearly killed me. Well, actually, it did kill the old me and facilitated a much-needed rebirth.
Despite Paul's "rejection," I hung on. I did love him (although I certainly wouldn't tell him again until he told me) and he was caring and, most importantly, patient as I committed to myself and slowly but surely spackled the walls of my dented soul. For his support, I promised to try sharing in his favorite activity: running.
I signed up for a half-marathon, and on the first day of training, I cranked the treadmill to nine-minute miles. That seemed respectable, didn't it? I finished the 30 minutes drunk on endorphins with thrills rushing through me, dripping with the sweat of success. Rock. Star.
The next day, I increased the speed, and within the first few minutes my breathing reeled, my body felt like concrete, and my legs were tight. "I knew it," I said, slamming my palm onto the emergency stop button. "I'm not a runner and I never will be."
But my beloved elliptical machines were all occupied, people happily floating through their sessions as I pouted, grounded on the treadmill belt. I reset my machine to a brisk walk, incrementally turning up the pace to find my sweet sweat-spot. Before I knew it, I was jogging. (Sure, it wasn't running, but it also wasn't walking.) Three miles passed easily (and enjoyably!) so I started each subsequent workout at that speed (somewhere between 11 and 12-minute miles). Sometimes I tried to go faster, but my body's protests kept my ego in check. Over weeks my miles piled up, and I had no issue calling myself a real-life runner, just like my awesome marathoner boyfriend.
Muscles take time to train, especially the heart, and at peak performance they can work wonders. Paul had never said "I love you" to a girlfriend. It was a big deal, and he had just wanted to be sure. Of course, I had fantasies of finishing my first half-marathon in less than two hours and being greeted by Paul down on one knee, but I wasn't disappointed at my 2:06 time and the proud grin on my boyfriend's (still-not-fiance's) face as I finished, because I was having a heck of a lot of fun. Jogging's just as good as running -- it gets you there eventually.
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