Writing and running in Austin, TX.
Here’s something you might not know about me. Name a type of anxiety, and I have it. Social anxiety, performance anxiety, test anxiety, fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of the bogeyman…I could go on.
Let’s just say that when I’m leaving for a 5:30 am workout in the dark, sometimes I take a flying leap into my car in case there’s a killer hiding underneath it waiting to grab my ankle. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in my back yard listening to a truck out front and wondering if that truck is dispensing a hoard of criminals who are walking out the front door with my TV as we speak.
Most people find my paranoid tendencies amusing. Or they don’t realize I have them because they mistake that social anxiety for a reserved and stoic demeanor. (Now there’s a laugh.)
I, personally, find them annoying, and do everything I can to squash them.
My personal philosophy on anxiety/fear formed when I was 16 years old and a competitive show jumper. (That’s a horse sport.) I had a fantastic German mare who was actually from Germany, fast, and never pulled a rail. (She didn’t knock fences down.) Her one flaw was that she was terrified, and I mean TERRIFIED, of water. Put a blue plastic tarp under a fence, and there was a 50/50 chance whether I’d end up going over it or into it.
I had a Spanish trainer at the time, and he fully embodied that Mediterranean “asi es la vida” philosophy. Early in our career together, we were walking the course for a Children’s Jumper class, and sure enough, there was a huge blue tarp right under fence #8. It even had some blue flowers hanging from the standards just to mess with my poor Mandy a little more. I sucked in my breath and turned to my trainer, “She’s going to look at the water.”
“I don’t care if she looks at the water, as long as she goes over it.”
That was the last time we had a problem at the water jump. After that, I would gallop Mandy at them full speed, give her a nice loose rain, and let her jump 10 feet in the air with her nose between her knees so she could take a good long look at that water while we went over it.
I’ve tried to live this way ever since. “It’s okay to be scared of flying,” I tell myself, “as long as you get on the plane.”
Of course sometimes that’s easier said then done.
As promised, here’s where the running clinic comes in.
This past Thursday, the coach of Rogue’s almost elite team — the guys who aren’t paid to run, but who never have to worry whether they’ll qualify for Boston — was giving a running form clinic called “Why Running Form Clinics are Bullsh*t”. Naturally, as a giant running nerd, I really really wanted to go. I convinced my far more outgoing friend Emily to accompany me and considered myself set.
Thursday morning, Emily backed out. It wasn’t a flake — her mom was in town and wanted to go to dinner — but it threw my entire plan into doubt. What would I do? Would I go to this clinic…alone? What if no one talked to me? What if everyone else there saw me talking to no one, and decided I was a total freak?? I even told Handsome J it would be a last minute decision whether I would be home for dinner.
But, like I said, I really really wanted to go.
With 30 minutes to go, I told myself to get on the damn plane and drove down there.
Sure enough, I walked in and recognized no one. (Okay, I recognized some of the Team Rogue Elite people — the actual professionals — but I wasn’t exactly going to walk up to them and say, “Hi, you don’t know me but I’ve read about you on Facebook.”) Actually, to make things even worse, I walked into the training room instead of the store and found myself picking my way through a core strengthening class. (“Don’t mind me…nice form on those crunches!”)
What proceeded was a comedy of errors. I asked a woman I’d never seen before what program she was in, and she admitted she actually ran with the other big training group in town. I tried to nonchalantly get a beer, but accidentally walked through someone’s conversation while trying to get to the bottle opener. I sat on a bench by myself feeling depressed and contemplating a wall of neon-colored shoes.
Then, as if by magic, or my preferred term ‘karma’, the night turned itself around. A friendly-looking woman came and sat down next to me, and on closer inspection she turned out to be one of those fast people in my training group who I never actually get to talk to. We had a nice conversation about the pros and cons of LASIK.
When the clinic itself started, the speaker announced that he wasn’t going to stand because 1) he wanted this to be a conversation and 2) he had major anxiety. Naturally, I perked up. Sure enough, this guy who is a well-known, well-liked expert on running was bouncing his knees, clenching and unclenching his hands, and looking everywhere but at the crowd.
Of course once he got rolling all of that went away (or turned into pure adrenaline) and he spoke for over an hour on everything he knew about running form. If you’re wondering, it boils down to “Tall, light, and relaxed.”
I was so interested in what he was saying that I began twisting my scarf around my hands, working up the courage to ask a question. Unfortunately, right as I got there, the clinic ended, but I hung around after to ask him his thoughts on how important actual biomechanics are. (I have flat feet. I will always have flat feet. In prehistoric times I would have been eaten very quickly.)
Not only did I get a serious, 20-minute answer from a guy who usually coaches people twice as fast as me, he even showed me some exercises to help strengthen the muscle in your leg that supports your arch. I practiced them this morning while brushing my teeth.
I recently heard an even better summary of this life lesson in a quote attributed to former Biggest Loser coach Jillian Michaels: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
I know, I know, she’s a reality TV celebrity, but I really think that’s an idea that you can apply so widely, to running and to life. In the last half mile of a 5K? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Have a big presentation to give to senior management? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I can’t promise you it will always work, but it will surely get you farther than being a slave to your fears.