I’m a coach. But not the athletic kind. The executive kind that helps expats achieve their goals in a new culture. Aside from running to catch the closing subway doors (I’m also a New Yorker), the only running that I can remember doing is an embarrassing middle school exercise about 25 years ago where we had to run 10 laps around the parking lot. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t finish.
For private family health reasons, I decided that in 2018 I wanted to take up running as a goal during the 2nd half of the year. Two men – both named Jason, both born in New York, both twins, and both incredibly talented running athletes – came into my life that year. One caused me to stop breathing and the other helped me to start again, but both motivated me on the journey.
The First Jason
I met him in New York and dated for nearly seven months before a devastating break-up. Although his constant stream of marathons and races didn’t always jibe with my weekend plans for us to sleep in, his determination, focus, and accomplishment were contagious. I got started on my running goal earlier than planned through a self-disciplined nine week Couch to 5K program.
We broke up at the end of week seven and although I could barely get out of bed, stop crying, or eat, I somehow made it on every remaining run. Some days I pushed through the depression, panic, and anxiety.
Most days it strangled me to the point that I literally couldn’t breathe and had to cut the run short. Regardless of which type of day it was, working toward this goal was the only thing giving me a sense of purpose.
The Second Jason
I met him in California during a self-care getaway a few weeks after the break-up. I hired him to coach me on running technique and motivation. I chose him out of all the coaches I had contacted because the number of similarities to the first Jason felt like a sign from the universe. The first thing I said when we met was that my anxiety was suffocating my running. I wasn’t going as far or as fast as I had been. I was failing at my goal.
He showed me important running drills and practices, but more importantly, with every step he helped me shift my mindset about running and life, at a very difficult and often dark time.
I learned that the success of a run, like that of a relationship, is not black and white. It’s not solely measured by pace, distance, or even making it to the (proverbial) finish line. Finishing a run is definitely one kind of success, but simply starting one is another. Doing a little more or a little better than last time is terrific, but like in a relationship, so too is the courage to try again when you don’t.
I discovered that it could be liberating to run in silence, free from music, timers, and running apps. Being alone with our thoughts (or without a significant other for that matter) can be scary though. When a negative thought pops in my head, I have to say “STOP”, dismiss it, and replace it with a positive one.
Most importantly, I learned that “just breathing” is enough. I didn’t have to try to outbreathe my lingering post-break-up panic by breathing deeper or more often. There was naturally enough oxygen in the air for me to breathe perfectly fine. As in a relationship, sometimes you just have to stop trying to control everything around you and let it happen.
Running Is Like A Relationship
None of this should have been foreign to me as I coach others on similar concepts. Sometimes it’s just hard to see the potential in ourselves that we so readily see in others. Now I know that “I can”, a mantra I repeat to myself while running. Self-talk is powerful and reflects our beliefs, which can be self-empowering or self-limiting, but which are always choices (as I ironically told the first Jason when we broke up). As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
I finished my first 5K race in September 2018, five months after I started running. It’s not a success because of the distance or pace that I ran. It’s a success because I started and because I finished.
It’s a success because I managed my thoughts instead of letting them manage me. It’s a success because I was able to breathe – the whole way through.