How Running (and Two Jasons) Taught Me To Breathe Again

by On Dec 13, 2018

Going through a break up is a hurdle like no other. Learn to care for yourself despite going through tough times in life.

How Running (and Two Jasons) Taught Me To Breathe Again

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.

How Running (and Two Jasons) Taught Me To Breathe Again

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.

Jamie Gelbtuch is the founder of Cultural Mixology. When not out running, she serves as a strategic thinking partner to support individuals and organizations that are faced with multicultural challenges and change. Through coaching, training, mentoring, and consulting, she equips clients with tools to flourish during cultural transitions. Jamie is fluent in English, Spanish, and French, has a working knowledge of Portuguese, and is a novice at Arabic. She has also lived abroad and traveled extensively throughout five continents. Jamie is always looking for new and innovative ways to help herself and others manage the complexity, uncertainty, and personal challenges presented by living or working in an international environment.

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