I cried in a CrossFit class last Friday. I pulled my grey hat over my eyes to hide the tears. We were supposed to be squatting with a medicine ball, and I just couldn’t do it. Stupid really. I felt frustrated and embarrassed. The coach asked me if I was ok. I nodded. But I wasn’t.
It feels like I’ve spent the last few weeks really doubting myself.
My word for 2014, ‘dare’, clung loosely to my legs as I slowly meandered through January. I kept looking at the word on my blackboard, and yet I didn’t know what ‘dare’ meant to me anymore. The start of the year sounded a 14 month klaxon until my LA to NY run, and I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the monumental size of the journey upon me. Not just the near 3000 miles across an entire country, but what lay ahead in terms of training and logistics, and what it meant to me as a runner, as a human.
I’ve spent a lot of my life doubting myself and what I am capable of. My mum died when I was 18, and I kind of lost my way soon after, the sheer weight of the loss paralysed me, and I fucking floundered for a long time. I wasn’t a child anymore, and yet I certainly wasn’t an adult. I had to figure things out and make things up as I went along, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing with this thing called life. I always looked to others to tell me what to do. I didn’t dare trust my own inner-voice or intuition. I felt very trapped and lived a small and safe life.
It was running that guided me towards the person I wanted to be. I think there’s an animal instinct in all of us to just run; lungs full, chest open, eyes ahead, dead-beat legs. Maybe it’s to heal ourselves – to feel our way back to who we are – to experience physical pain, and to learn from it and grow. I’ve never felt so aware of myself than when I am running. Feeling your heart thumping in your chest is a stark reminder of just how alive you are.
I know that there’s something going on with me when I stop enjoying running. It’s a sure sign that my flame is low. It hits me before I have any conscious awareness of what’s going on. A red light. A gauge.
I realised that I’d again started to question myself. The run across America had me on high alert. Not being able to squat the other day at CrossFit was quickly followed by a Google search on poor ankle stability and lack of mobility. I started to worry that my running form wasn’t efficient enough, or that I’m knock-kneed, or that my foot over-pronates too much and one leg is longer than the other and that this somehow makes me a terrible runner. I talked to a multitude of coaches and teachers, each one telling me something different. I absorbed everything they said and their words quickly filled the gaps from where my own reasoning had departed. I was confused and disconnected. The doubt crept in and I moved further and further away from myself, as I allowed myself to be defined by the advice I’d garnered.
The tears at CrossFit were a sign to stop. And, of course, the tears were nothing to do with not being able to do a squat, but more to do with my self-worth being hinged on external measures and stamps of validation.
George Sheehan in his book, ‘This Running Life’, wrote; “If you look, you can see this dependency all around you. The machine monitors our acts, replaces our instincts, substitutes for our intuitions, acts as judge for our insights. The machine tells us what to do. In the process, our instincts are no longer heard. The animal in us is caught and caged”.
And so I have decided to rest for a while. There is no running happening here right now. I am reading and breathing and being. I am looking at maps of America and making notes. Finding my way back to the heart of the decision to run across a country, to move away from marathon times and plans and schedules and self-correcting and comparison. To merely put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, with my friend by my side, for 3000 miles. And to see and feel and hear not only everything around me – but within myself – my hand to my chest, feeling my beating heart.
I am alive.
And so are you.