I went for a run last week. It was the first time in almost two years and one of only a handful of times I have ever tried to undertake this form of exercise. I liked that run so much that only a few hours later I was already looking for an excuse to do it again.
So I did.
That’s not normal for me. Usually, I hate running.
I detested it so much that I was fond of claiming I had learned MMA just so I’d never have a reason to run. Before I started working out in college I literally would not have run a block to catch a bus. Several years in, I would run for the bus, if need be. But that was it.
I went out of my way to avoid running as a form of cardiovascular exercise. I cycled. I rowed. I did sled pulls. I worked the heavy bag. I used an elliptical machine. (Let’s chalk that last one up to youthful indiscretion and try to forget about it, ok?)
I absolutely flat out refused to run because it gave me side splints, made it hard to breath, and made me hyperventilate every single time. I couldn’t sustain a good pace for more than a few blocks without having to stop, red-faced and frustrated, and walk.
I loathed it.
Then running showed up on my training program.
I assured my trainer that it wasn’t going to go well. If I didn’t flat-out say, “I can’t do it,” I certainly thought it.
Just before my run, I was telling a friend (and fellow MMA fighter) about how much I was dreading it. I told him that when I run, I feel like I’m having a panic attack. He got really excited and told me that was going to be great for me.
His reasoning went that, after all, a lot of fighting is mental. So much of the game is about what it does to your head, how you handle the nerves, and how well you can function when your system is dumping adrenaline into your body like there’s no tomorrow. So, by my friend’s logic, I could use running as an opportunity to practice confronting the uniquely frantic headspace of MMA.
It was a great idea. But I didn’t get to actually try it out as intended, because when I laced up my sneakers and hit the pavements I found out that running no longer sucked.
It was straight-up fun.
It turns out that after all that time spent dreading and avoiding it, the simplest exercise possible was also enjoyable. I got home from my run feeling like I had slain a dragon.
I had a similar experience with re-learning to drive. I had a license as a teenager, but I let it expire when I moved to Portland eight years ago. I waited almost a decade to try to get licensed again because I was deeply afraid of driving. I had always hated it, even back in my hometown Sitka (a tiny island town with just 19 miles of road, two stop lights, and nowhere you could go over 45 mph), and Portland’s (admittedly moderate) traffic was far more intimidating.
When I finally got behind the wheel again a few months ago, it was scary at first. But a few days’ practice had me driving on major streets, and within a month I was on the highway for the first time in my life. When I found I could pass a semi and merge back into the flow of traffic, I once again had that dragon-slayer feeling.
I’d been acting like a child that insists she hates broccoli, only to discover when she finally tries it that it’s pretty damn tasty.
These recent experiences not only expanded my potential modes of transit, but they also blew my notions of what’s impossible out of the water.
Now I can’t help but wonder, what other supposed impossibilities might I unknowingly be rearranging my life to avoid? Are there holes in my MMA game that I had assumed were unassailable? Are there other sports I could try, foods I might like, bigger projects to undertake?
Suddenly I wanted to dash out and scour all of the unexamined caverns of my mind. I had found a good reason to run– not away from something that scares me, but towards it.
I want more of that dragon-slayer feeling, so I’ve made peace with running. After all, there are plenty more impossible dragons I want to chase down and dispatch with.