Learning to Embrace the Turtle
One of my favorite stories is one my Dad told me from his time in Thailand years ago when he was working with Vietnamese refugees. On his off days he would go to the Buddhist temple by his house, he would teach English to the monks and the monks would teach him Thai. While he is not a religious man he was intrigued by Buddhism so he asked one of the monks how he would go about becoming a Buddhist, the monk replied “If you feel like you are a Buddhist, then you are a Buddhist,” which is exactly something I would imagine a Buddhist monk saying. Stick with me, I’ll curve back to this story.
On New Year’s Day my DH, Eric, and I made our way to the gym and ran our final run of a 36 day running streak challenge from Runner’s World magazine. My muscles were fatigued, I was feeling every run I’d done over the past 35 days, but I was motivated by the accomplishment of running 36 days in a row. We both planned to do a longer run, which meant my mind had a lot of time to wander and mull, and it did, I began thinking about the internal journey running had taken me on over the past two years.
Over the summer, when we were in the US on home leave and doing a lot of running on the gorgeous trails of rural Maryland and in Minneapolis, I started lovingly referring to myself as the “Speedy Turtle,” my pace is south of speedy and I’d struggled emotionally with that. But, with each run, I began to embrace my turtle self, I began to remind myself that I may not be the quickest but I never quit, my pace may be slow but I always put one foot in front of the other. I’d been calling myself a runner for some time but, until this summer, it felt not quite true, not because it wasn’t but because I was judging myself as not good enough to really be given the title of runner. Over the summer, I stopped paying so much attention to how quickly other people were running the trails and started focusing on my run, on how I felt about it, on what my body was doing. I was there, on the trails, several days a week, giving it my everything–and I finally started to realize that I should call myself a runner because it was true.
During the streak I started getting faster, at first without even realizing it, and then because I was pushing for it, and it was a revelation because of what was motivating me to do it. In the past I’d pushed myself to be faster because I thought it was something I needed to do, and every time I didn’t go “fast enough” I felt not good enough. During the streak I began to push myself to be faster because I wanted it, because it felt good to work my body harder than I had before, to shave seconds off previous times, to finish a run knowing I left everything on the road or the mill. And my arms fully encircled two truths …
The first is that I am a Speedy Turtle, and that’s just fine. All the feelings of not being good enough, not being fast enough, were causing damage to my self-esteem, and it was eating away at the absolute joy and release I find in running. A friend of mine who is also a runner summed it up perfectly when she wrote something along the lines of how comparing yourself to someone else is a form of self-violence, I read that and it resonated so strongly with me. Why should I chip away at this incredible gift I’d decided to give myself by comparing myself to others? Why should it matter to me how fast they are going? Everyone runs their own pace, everyone runs their own runs. These are things I had been saying to myself for two years but had never fully believed until I opened the door to them over the summer, and until the streak finally allowed me to let them in. Somewhere on that last run of the streak I thought of my dad and the Buddhist monks and it dawned on me, if you feel like a runner, then you are a runner. Don’t complicate it, don’t weigh it down, just run.
I learned a lot about myself during the streak, and I learned a lot about my tribe, my fellow runners. I belong to a FB group of ex-pat runners, many of whom were also running the streak. Every day I went to this group and read about the runs that people had taken, I read the words of encouragement from the streakers and from other runners in the group, and I was reminded of what a remarkable tribe runners are. Everyone is running their own run, very few are judging someone else’s run. This group is the only FB group I’ve ever belonged to where I’ve never seen one bit of negativity, or judgement, or snarky commenting–just support, words of wisdom, shared joy, and a common love of the run. I am so grateful for my worldwide tribe, and for their unconditional encouragement, for their humor, and for just knowing they are out there running.
So my second truth went along with my first, I must treat myself with the same encouragement and kindness that I treat other runners, and that I have received from other runners. I never find myself judging another runner, I just don’t do it because I love, in a pure and unconditional way, my fellow tribe members and it wouldn’t even occur to me to judge one of them. I finally realized that, as a member of that tribe, I should give myself the same level of respect and support I give to, and receive from, others. It sounds elementary but it took me a while to get there!
I am gifted many things through running, and one of my favorites is how it pushes me to venture outside my comfort zone emotionally and physically. This year Eric and I have signed up for a challenge called “Run the Edge,” where you challenge yourself to run and/or walk 2015 miles in 2015. Since there are two of us we’re splitting the challenge in two and logging running miles (if we were each doing it on our own we would log walking miles as well because, well, 2015 is a HUGE number). Even cut in half to 1,007.5 miles it’s pretty intimidating, definitely outside of my comfort zone, and will require a whole lot of determination. But I know, because of my journey towards self-acceptance, coupled with the love of my runner hubby and the support of my tribe, I will do it! Run on, my fellow runners, and continue to be the absolute rock stars that you are!