That strange motivator.

This one’s a bit long…get ready!

Last week during the Evansville Half Marathon, volunteers had put signs up along the Greenway path with various answers to the question, “Why do you run?” Some of them were funny: “Because there’s snacks at the finish line!” Some of them were not funny: “Because everyone told me I couldn’t.”

That particular answer gave me more pause than others did. It made me really think “why do I run?” I could think of reasons like “to be fit; to be healthy,” but those have never really felt like my reasons. They may be someone’s reasons, and that’s great – but they aren’t my reasons. For me, being fit and healthy are side effects of a great lifestyle change that didn’t even necessarily take them into consideration, not really.

The Track
When I first started going to the gym, I had no clue what I was doing. My first employer out of college had a generous discount for employees to go to the YMCA near where we worked. I signed up, but it was a few weeks before I mustered up the courage to go. I finally went and walked around the track during my lunch break. Sometimes I could walk a mile, other times my legs were on fire and would hurt so bad, I had to quit early – then I’d be sore for days. I was nervous about what the rest of the facility held. I saw people going in all different directions, some were running around the track, some played basketball, some went in other rooms or the pool. It took me months before I strayed from that track to explore what other options were available.

The Elliptical
The day finally came that I walked into a small side room with a few cardio and weight machines. It was a large storage closet they had converted to sort of an overflow room for treadmills, elliptical machines, stair steppers, arc trainers, and various weight machines. Not only that, but there were televisions in there. I used the treadmills for a while before I got on an elliptical. I don’t know what it was about that machine, but I couldn’t get enough. I got on it every day from there on out, burning calories and watching Just Shoot Me. My goal was to burn as many calories as were in a Snickers bar, which was 210. Sometimes I’d hit it, sometimes I wouldn’t. Either way, I’d have a Snickers bar and a Diet Coke in the afternoon.

Despite my dismal approach to nutrition, the fat started melting away. It felt great. I wasn’t rushing out to buy new clothes or anything – it wasn’t quite as dramatic as that. But one day, I was switching the channels on a TV before getting on my machine, and a lady on a treadmill told me she noticed I was losing weight, and to keep up the good work. “You’re slimming down!” I’ll never forget her or those words. I was actually doing it!

I kept going, day after day after day. In the cold, in the rain, in the intense heat and humidity, I’d drive over to the Y at lunch and power through on that elliptical machine until my time was up. Some days I’d skip and get lunch somewhere else, but I always hated myself for doing that. Something inside me was pushing hard to go to the gym, and it wasn’t very clear where that push was coming from. I’d never been to a doctor who might have told me I was overweight and should consider a change. My family loves me, my wife loves me and has been attracted to me through all different stages of appearance…No one ever told me I should; no one ever told me I couldn’t. So why do it at all?

The Road
I have always wanted to be a runner, even before going to the Y. Running appealed to me somehow. Especially long runs. I have always thought it would be relaxing to just hit the road to run and run until I was ready to come home. A few failed attempts at running around the track at the Y had me believe I would never be a runner because “it was too late.” As a 23- or 24-year-old, I told myself it was too late to be a runner. “I can walk all day,” I’d tell people. “But I couldn’t run one mile.” I made up excuses, but the idea never left my mind. It was always there nagging at me. Finally I did it. A few years ago, I ran for the first time, and I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to make it. My legs would give out, my heart would race, it’d be terrible. But I did it. I continued to do it. Crappy shoes, old shirts with the sleeves cut off, a washcloth to wipe away the sweat…I did it.

The Race
I’ve kept going forward. I was introduced to strength building routines I had never imagined – lunges, squat thrusts, burpees! I toned, I shed more and more pounds, I started running 5ks. My first 5k was a trail run in Harmonie State Park. At 9:00 in the morning, it was 95 degrees or something like that. We raced off into the woods, and I couldn’t make it. I had to walk. I finished running, but only barely. I was so disappointed, but I didn’t quit. I kept going. I don’t know how many 5ks I’ve run now. I’ve gone so many miles running and biking. New things come into my life: “People ride their bikes 100 miles in a day? I’d like to do that.” So I do. “People run 13.1 miles? I’d like to do that.” So I do. “An Ironman is a century, a marathon, and a 5k swim? I’d like to do that.” So I will – haven’t yet, but I will. Because it freaks me out.

The Theme
Whenever I look back, there is one common theme from today, six days before my second marathon (maybe five days now), back to the first day I went to the YMCA and tried to walk a mile on a track. That thread is fear. It’s an odd motivator, but I’m convinced we all have it about one thing or another. I was afraid to go to the YMCA because I was overweight, and there would be thin people there. I was afraid to explore the facility because I wouldn’t know what to do with some of those machines. I was afraid to run because I thought I’d fail. But I did each thing in turn. I was afraid of it all – but I wanted to do it. Something in me said do it so loudly and persistently that I couldn’t ignore it even through the fear. So I did it.

The Takeaway
So many things I’ve set my mind on. At first they scare me. But I study them, then I try them, then I accomplish them. This year, I committed to training better to run a marathon – the same marathon I ran last year that broke me down physically and mentally. But I want to run a marathon is in my head, so I’m making it happen. There are loads of things in my head right now saying I want to do this, I want to do that. Some of them I’m ready for, some I’m not. Most make me nervous. But I’ll make a plan for them. This blog is actually the result of one of those nagging things.

I’ve never really challenged you to consider yourself when reading what I write each week, but this time I’m going to because I feel pretty passionate about following dreams and overcoming fears.

If there is something in your life that you want to do, something that nags at you, but you’re afraid of it – make a plan. Find your support group or person and tell them about it. It’s probably going to sound crazy when you say it out loud: “I want to run a marathon.” or “I want to ride my bike every night.” or “I want to try making sushi.” Get excited about it, and take the first few steps. Nothing will ever feel better than when you do something you’ve always wanted to do. It’ll make you feel like a kid. It’ll make you feel like you can accomplish anything – and it will prove that you can.

Maybe your first step is telling me what your dream is. Put it in the comments below, and I’ll help cheer you on. Seriously – do it now. What are you afraid of?

Also, I came in FIRST in my age category at a nighttime trail run last week!
Also, I came in FIRST in my age category at a nighttime trail run last week!

2 thoughts on “That strange motivator.

  1. lilz0312 October 14, 2014 / 9:13 am

    I understand all too well “that nagging feeling.” After earning my masters, I put my writing on the back-burner for three years. I know in my heart the number one reason I did this was because I was afraid to fail. It has always been a constant struggle to overcome this irrational fear–and it is irrational–in order to pursue something I have always loved to do.

    I want to thank you because I have toyed with starting a blog for a long time, but reading yours each week is what pushed me to finally do it. So thank you! You are amazing in more ways than I can count.

    • A Carter October 14, 2014 / 10:39 am

      Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you’ve been inspired to start writing more. You’re a talented writer, and I’m really looking forward to reading your reviews. The hardest part for me when I started this one was confronting the vulnerability of putting it out there for people to read.

      Fear and vulnerability will always be a part of art, no matter what previous accomplishments we may have. Don’t ignore it, though – confront it. Tell it to screw off, and then write about how you did it!

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