Strength in Endurance

I am not very strong, and by that I mean the literal physical sense of the word. I can’t lift really heavy things. I can’t even lift my own body weight up off the floor for a push-up or pull my own body weight up into a pull up without assistance. (I’m working on that, though.)

I’m not very fast, or even a little fast, at anything. Seriously. I will never be the first to cross the finish line or the first to finish a WOD. I’m not often last, either, but it has happened. I don’t think I’ve ever been first. Ever.

You know what I CAN do? Endure. I won’t ever lift the heaviest, and I won’t ever finish first. But, I can go forever. I can endure with the best.

The first time I pushed past 800 meters in the pool, I was literally shocked at how my body responded. One lap before, closing in on the 800 and what I had originally planned to be the end of my workout, I thought I would pass out, sink to the bottom of the pool and have to be rescued by the cute little lifeguard half my age. I had to push myself with every stroke. Praying and willing myself to the end. I. Was. Miserable. Then I got to the 800, and it’s like a switch flipped. My body fell into a rhythm. Breathing. Stroke. Kick. I felt better than I did the first lap. Better than I have ever felt in a pool. I felt like I was flying. I started to panic a little in my head because I wondered if this might be a sign of mental confusion right before collapse. I had never heard of a swimmer’s high, but I was experiencing it. I swam another 800 meters and felt like I could have gone longer. I swam a mile! And, I wanted more.

The first time I experienced the runners high was when I broke 5 miles for the first time. Same kind of thing. I thought I would never hit 5, but once I got there, I felt like I could have run for another 5. I only did one extra mile because I wasn’t interested in getting injured, but it was the best mile I have ever run! That’s also the run that made me feel like a runner. That’s the run that made me feel comfortable calling myself a runner.

This past year, I did a rowing challenge at a crossfit gym. I didn’t have much extra time, so I had to do a lot of the rowing right before the WOD. I was worried that would decrease my ability to handle the workout, that I would be slower and weaker, but I actually found those to be the best workouts I had ever had there. I enjoyed them better than any others at least, and I walked out feeling that same kind of ‘high’ I felt running and swimming.

The point of me sharing this? I hear people say things like “I could never run that far.” I could never swim that far.” “I could never commit to that kind of workout.” “I’m not strong.” “I’m not fast.” “I’m just not built for that kind of thing.” Excuses and self doubt. In those kinds of conversations, I often feel like they’re talking themselves out of it more than they’re trying to explain things to me. I don’t need an explanation. I’m not their coach, but I always want to say, “you don’t know for sure, do you? You will never know unless you try.”

Because I didn’t know I would love running until I gave it a shot, and I mean really gave it a shot. I HATED it training for my first 5k. The only reason I stuck with it was because it was for charity and I had already told too many people I was doing it.

I was terrified of swimming. It took me months of talking to a friend who was a swimming instructor about getting in the pool. My first time, I’m pretty sure I looked like a drowning duck. I was embarrassed to be there in the water. I’ve seen 4 year olds better at swimming than I was as an adult mother of three. I don’t think I really learned how to swim as a child as much as I learned how not to drown. My motivation for taking up swimming so late was my autistic son. I wanted to take on that fear so I could better understand how he feels about things I think are simple, but that’s a post for another day. I did it, though. I got in the pool and pushed through the embarrassment and discomfort of being an adult trying a new sport.

And, trying something like Crossfit, or any kind of group fitness thing, was a scary and uncomfortable thought, but I was injured, bored and focused on my New Year’s resolution for that year, “No Fear.” That pretty much meant that if an opportunity presented itself that scared me (without good reason), I couldn’t say no. I learned a lot about myself doing non-running things in a box (gym) setting, and I made some amazing friends and connections I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

The point here is that I would never have known that my strength lies in my endurance if I had never pushed past that horrible first five miles, past that 800 meter distress or committed to rowing some stupid number of meters AND get my workouts in. I would never have made the connection that my endurance is my strength. I would still be sitting on my couch telling myself I can’t do it because up until I really tried, I couldn’t do it. I had proven myself slow and weak in pretty much everything until I decided if I couldn’t be faster I would go longer.

My body seems to be built to get stronger the longer I go, but endurance is something anyone can build over time. You just have to push past ‘the end’ over and over again. Then the end will start to look like the beginning.

So, even if you aren’t strong, even if you aren’t fast, you can endure, and endurance is how you win the race against yourself and all your excuses.

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