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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We all have a narrative that runs through our brain. Are these stories true? Do they hold us back? They certainly can. One of the stories that I’ve told myself since my childhood is that I hate running.

This story begins in elementary school when for a few months my dad decided to take up jogging. Let’s be clear: My dad was most definitely not a runner. He was chubby, always on a diet, and preferred to lounge around all day doing the crossword puzzle rather than partake in any sort of physical activity.

But jogging was big in the 80s and he figured he’d give it a try. We’d throw on our Adidas track suits and head to the track on Saturday mornings and I would do my best to make it around the track a few times, usually trailing behind my dad who wasn’t exactly Carl Lewis.

After about 15 minutes of huffing and puffing, dad would call it quits and we’d sit on the bleachers catching our breath. Then he’d light up a victory cigarette and we’d be on our way, usually to grab bagels and cream cheese, thus rendering any benefit from our outing null and void.

Fast forward to junior high school and high school and the introduction of borderline sadistic gym teachers who used running laps as punishment for being late or a bad attitude, and my hatred of running took hold. Inevitably I’d be one of the last kids around the track, red-faced, sweaty and mortified by my lack of physical prowess.

Like my dad, I was chubby and the Russell athletic shorts we had to wear would ride up on my fleshy thighs. The other kids would pass me, their spindly legs zooming by as I struggled to keep my shorts in place and my dignity intact. Occasionally, I’d catch a look of contempt, or a snicker from one of my schoolmates. It was all pretty mortifying.

In these moments, I felt ashamed. Ashamed of not being skinny and athletic. Ashamed of being awkward and round and frizzy-haired. That shame became synonymous with running and I began to hate it. Not only did I hate it, I decided it was absolutely something that I sucked at and would do my best to avoid for the rest of my life.

Then I met my husband. He was a runner and had completed three marathons. I told him that I hated running and that I was bad at it. He felt the same way about yoga, which I have been practicing for 25 years. We agreed that he would not try to cajole me into running and I wouldn’t nag him about joining me at a yoga class. And that was that until recently, when he signed us up for Orange Theory.

To the uninitiated, Orange Theory Fitness is a 60-minute class that combines interval cardio with bouts of weight training. You usually spend about 20 minutes on the treadmills, 10 on a rower and the rest doing floor exercises and weights. Before the first class, I was very anxious. “Why the fuck did you sign us up for this?” I asked my poor husband.

I was terrified that I’d be the out of shape middle-aged lady desperately trying to keep up with a bevy of perky, lithe millennials giving me side-eye in their Lululemon and topknots. Boy was I wrong. Much to my surprise, the class was fairly diverse, with people of all ages, fitness levels, and shapes. No one gave a damn about what I was doing or wearing.

While most people ran or jogged on the treadmill, a few of us walked and honestly, no one was paying attention to what anyone else was doing. I felt weirdly liberated and just focused on me. I even jogged a bit! By my fourth class, I was running more than half of the time on the treadmill. It felt exhilarating. Yes, my heart was pounding and it wasn’t easy. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else or feeling less-than.

I was proud of being 50 and of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I managed to stay in the orange and red zone for a while and even racked up a decent number of splat points.

But the best part was when I went to the gym by myself the other day. I hopped on the treadmill and cranked up one of my favorite Sia songs. I started out walking but soon, I was running. I imagined all of those bullies and naysayers from my youth running behind me on the high school track, desperately trying to keep up. A few tripped and a couple of the really horrible bullies fell into ditches while I sprinted ahead. I laughed out loud at the thought and felt a surge of energy and joy.

It’s all a fucking mental game, I finally realized. Those limiting stories that we tell ourselves are just that: Limiting. They are so woven into our sense of self that it’s hard to let go, even when they’re holding us back. It’s taken me a long time, nearly 40 years to be exact, but I finally let go….and flew.

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