This month I’m taking ‘medical leave’ and handing over to a guest I’ve known for thirty-one years: my daughter, Cristal. Since I’m an extremely proud mother, I could write a couple of pages on her brilliant achievements but I’ll spare you that. It’s sufficient to say that Cristal holds two Masters degrees, and currently works in Bogota, Colombia, for the International Organization for Migration, a branch of the UN. As she’s always been considered somewhat un-athletic (her swimming instructor called her “spaghetti legs”), I was obviously surprised when she took up running. When I asked her why, this was her response…
Running: the final frontier. Or perhaps I should say that writing about running is the final frontier, as I’ve never written about anything athletic in my life and much less about running, which I only took up six months ago!
I was visiting my mother in New York in October, 2014, and wanted to make sure that I got some exercise while I was there. We are lucky enough to live close to Central Park, so it seemed the obvious choice in terms of location. I had tried running a few times, some years ago, with little success – I never made it around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir (2.5 kilometers), and got bored quite quickly. This time, however, I decided to really give it my all. There were two reasons why. The main reason was that I had signed up for a 10k race to support UNICEF, in Colombia, in November, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without some kind of training in addition to the short aerobic workouts I’d been doing at home in the months prior.
The second reason was that my boyfriend runs, and really enjoys it, as do other people I know, so I felt I was missing out on something special – something that would get me fit and healthy, and might be fun at the same time. I therefore set off, determined to make it around that reservoir. A good playlist, the autumnal sun in the sky, a good night’s sleep, and a lot of effort. A LOT. When I had tried to make it around the reservoir before, I had allowed myself to walk when I started getting tired. This time I pushed through, looking at the other runners and thinking, “If they can do it, so can I.”
And I did! My pace was slow at almost 9 minutes per kilometer, and I felt like I had just run a marathon by the end of it, but I did it and I was very proud. The next day, I tried again, and again I came back feeling like a winner. Two days later – can I make it twice around the reservoir? Yes, I can. What? Little me? Little old Cristal who had never been good at anything athletic, never thought she could run around once, let alone twice? Me? Well, yes, I did it. And so began a love for running that I believe (at my tender running-age of six months) will last the rest of my life.
Over the last few months, my pace has improved to around 5:50/km and becomes evermore difficult to drive further down. My routine back in Bogotá involves waking up at 6am and braving the cold mountain morning to get to a nearby park and see if I can start this day better than I started the last – a challenge every time. I have always liked challenges, so this suits me well, as does the competition with my ultimate competitor – myself. There is nothing like beating your own best time; it is its own reward (which, on some weekends, comes with an extra donut-shaped reward at the end of the run, too, but we won’t discuss that). The pain of working through those inner voices saying “you’re not running from or to anything, so why can’t you just walk?”, and of making my legs carry me farther and farther, is all worth it for the personal payback. Running not only shows me that I am capable of things I didn’t know I could do, but also gives me a small sliver of time almost every day that I can dedicate to myself – no boss, no external interferences, just me, myself, and I overcoming the aches and pains of getting through the run, allowing myself to become absorbed in my own thoughts about anything from how much I like the playlist to what I want to do with my life. Even when I have a tedious day at the office ahead, I know that I achieved something fantastic that morning – every day becomes more worthwhile and overcoming these physical challenges convince me that I can overcome difficulties in other areas, too.
In addition to being surprised at my own physical and personal abilities, I’m being surprised by how excited I get when I think about running in new places. I tried a new route here in Bogotá a couple of weeks ago and ran faster because I was distracted from the pain of the long run by what I was seeing in this new place, and happy to be seeing something different as I struggled through. As my mother and I are currently planning a road-trip for this summer (at the same time as I will be training for a September half marathon that my boyfriend and I signed up for), I’m already excited about running in Shenandoah National Park, around Estes Lake, along the bike track in Jackson Hole, and through the Finger Lakes! The trip will surely have many highlights (stay tuned for details of this upcoming madness, which will start in mid-June) but I am sure that seeing America on running trails, as well as on the highway, will be one of them.
So here’s to learning that we are capable of pushing our personal limits and setting new goals where we didn’t think possible! This time last year I never thought you’d catch me writing a blog about running, of all things. And yet here we are. We all deserve to create new final frontiers, and it turns out that running helps me create mine.
Photos courtesy of Daniel Saffon