Monday, July 16, 2012

Do Something That Scares You

The following column appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News on July 15, 2012.

Sometimes, a book that has absolutely nothing to do with running, has everything to do with running. This week I stumbled upon a book about an almost-30-year-old's quest to overcome her fears, big and small. The book, called "My Year With Eleanor" and written by Noelle Hancock, is inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote: "Do something every day that scares you."

She tackles the seemingly mundane, like going tech-free for a week, to the expected, like fears of heights and sharks, to the profound, like telling people what she really thinks and talking with her boyfriend about the future. (Disclaimer: I should admit that I'm only halfway through the book. I'm assuming her fear-conquering year goes well and she lives happily ever after.)

Either way, big picture, she (and Eleanor) couldn't be more right. Do things that scare you. 

Hancock would probably laugh out loud at the thought of her book speaking to a runner - she has a vocal disdain for all things exercise (oh, aside from that little Kilimanjaro trip) - but reading the story made me think of all of the scary moments I've had as a runner and cyclist. 

The scariest moment was probably the first, back in 2008, when a friend suggested I take on something big. A few days later, I found myself in a room of then-strangers signing up for a half-marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program. 

From there, there were a series of scary running moments: the first group training session, going to a "real" running shoe store, the first double-digit run, the first energy gel and, of course, the first race day. Soon, the scary moments became the routine ones. And new scary ones took their place - signing up for a marathon, buying a bike, coaching a team of young girls.

Another one of my favorite quotes is from John "The Penguin" Bingham, an author, columnist and self-described spokesperson for the slow-running movement: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."

It's probably not a coincidence that the sentiment is the essentially the same as Eleanor's. 

I've read a lot of things, from books written by credentialed experts to personal blogs, on goal-setting. The one piece of advice that sticks out is that goals should be attainable enough that they are not impossible, but lofty enough that it gives you butterflies at the thought of trying. Looking back, the scary things - especially when it comes to running and riding - are probably the best things I have ever done.

Just this week, I was faced with another scary moment when a couple of gal-pals set up a group bike ride (which conveniently started at my house). I love riding with people, but to be perfectly honest, riding with people who are better than me completely scares (and frustrates) me. It scares me to a point that as the hours ticked away to our planned ride this week, I started to think just how I could get out of this ride. I even wondered if a raging sunburn qualified as a valid excuse.

With the book's sentiment's fresh in my mind (and some encouragement from my sweetie), I decided not to back out. And, guess what, it was great. Not only was it fun, it was the best riding I've done all season. Nothing like a little positive peer pressure to improve performance. 

I've been thinking lately about the next "big thing" - things like another marathon, entering the Mount Washington Road Race lottery, joining and actively participating in a local running club, hiring a personal trainer or coach, going for speed. The possibilities are endless.

For now, I'll keep my stomach butterflies fluttering a little less, but fluttering nonetheless. I signed up for the Bill Kelley 10K again this year. I had a so-so experience at this race last year, mostly due to the hot evening and lack of training. The switch to make it a Sunday morning race, as opposed to an after-work sweat-fest, will probably help part of that. The training part? Well, I haven't been exactly on-point with that lately. But those dang butterflies, and oh, the promise of an after-race poolside party at the Executive Health and Center Center's new tiki bar, Sizzle, lured me in.

The race, which also has a 5K option and benefits New Horizons for New Hampshire, is scheduled for Sunday, July 29. There's still plenty of time to sign up and get squeeze in some training runs. Does that give you butterflies? See you there.

Teresa Robinson's NH Runner column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. She can be reached at Twitter: @teresakrobinson