Most people never get there. They’re afraid or unwilling to demand enough of themselves and take the easy road, the path of least resistance. But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself—expanding and learning as you go—you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip. —Dean Karnazes
I have the great privilege of coaching runners for the Baltimore Women’s Classic, a women-only 5k that raises funds for support services to women with gynecological cancers. It’s the first race I ever ran, so it’s near and dear to my heart. I ran it that first year with a friend. She and my husband were the only ones I told that I was going to do it, because I was scared I couldn’t do it. I had no idea what finishing that race would do to enrich so many aspects of my life.
Over the next three years, I ran that race twice with other people who were testing themselves and once by myself. The lesson for me was that I would much rather help someone else reach her goals than set a PR, especially at the BWC. There is a special magic to run with those women, many running with their daughters, mothers or sisters. The streets are lined with people who love those women, who only want them to accomplish something pretty spectacular. Yes, there are many who are running for PRs, but I am pretty sure that there are at least half who have never run (or walked) a 5k before, and they are simultaneously scared and thrilled.
It’s to those women that I am attracted. I’ve been there. I love coaching the beginner runners, because they are sure they can’t run 20 minutes without stopping. And then they do. Or, this year, the woman who told me, I can never run more than 5 laps. We sprinted to finish the 6th, and the next week, she was able to run on her own and finish 9. There’s the woman who said that she can’t imagine how she’ll run the race without me (I’m going to be away on race day), but I know she’ll do it because she’s done all the things she didn’t think she could do already.
The first day of training, the coaches introduce themselves. I have the opportunity to stand up in front of them and tell them that for years, I didn’t even try to run because I had been told “you can’t.” And what I tell them is that one day, something happened and I changed a couple of words. I can’t became Maybe I can, and then Why can’t I? When you say you can’t, you won’t. When you say maybe, you might not, but it at least gives you the option.
Dean Karnazes hit it on the head. I know how to take the easy path. It was only when I took the scarier, harder path that I found an entire new passion and fellowship and sense of accomplishment that comes for me with running. I have that experience, and it’s the best thing that I can give back to those women who have had the courage to show up and try something they’ve never done before. And if one woman crosses that finish line next weekend, and feels the way I felt the first time I –that amazing holy cow, I just did it! – …well, then, I will receive the greatest gift of all. Helping someone else dig deep and do the seemingly impossible because I know it can be done. Priceless.