Trust Your Struggle
It’s hard for a reason. There’d be no point if it was easy. Even the best athletes in the world struggle through their workouts. It’s hard because there’s beauty in the struggle. Diamonds are made under pressure, so you have to charge through the tough bits, to get to the good. The struggle isn’t there to highlight your weaknesses, it’s there to guide you to your strength, tune you in to your grit, develop your sense of ‘no fucking way am I giving in now’.
The first time I attempted to run was at a ParkRun, which are 5K runs that take place in parks all over the UK at 9am every Saturday. If you’re not familiar with the world of distance running, 5K is the equivalent of three miles - keep in mind, I had no reference point for how far one mile was, but, on reflection, thinking I’d be able to run three of them on my first attempt was a little over ambitious, to say the least.
I waited up at the starting line with a bunch of very keen-looking people in Lycra. Someone blew a whistle and we were off! I started into a steady jog, arms swinging, feeling like I looked just like those other runners out there. About 20 seconds in, my lungs were like ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!’ as my legs slowly ground to a halt.
Everything in my body seemed vehemently opposed to whatever I was trying to do. But I’d barely even started. I had to finish the damn thing.
And that is when you find out exactly how long a mile is.
Sweet. Baby. Jesus.
I made little deals with myself as I ran for a little, walked for a little, considered crawling for a while, fought back tears, genuinely wondered for a moment if one of my lungs had actually fallen out, was amazed that a stitch can actually last so long you consider having voluntary surgery for it. It was hard, so hard.
Then that pensioner overtook me and I figured this was some sort of cruel joke, that I was on a hidden camera show that was making a mockery of my entire life. Then the girl in front of me threw up.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! WHY DOES ANYONE RUN?!
After what felt like hours, I was finally on the home straight. I stopped dragging my feet and put every last ounce of energy into getting to that finish line as fast as I could so this nightmare would be over.
It may have felt like hours, but it had actually only been 35 minutes. Running comes with some crazy kind of time warp, apparently.
I walked home that day a broken woman. But I couldn’t let one run take me down like that.
The next week, I found myself back at the same start line in the park, ready to take on that 5K again. This time, I told myself I just wasn’t going to stop. No matter how much it hurt, no matter how much my mind and body wanted to, I would simply not stop. The goal was to run the whole thing.
The whistle blew and I set off. I didn’t panic as the seasoned runners breezed past me. I found a pace and locked into it. I chanted the words ‘I will not stop. I will not stop’ like a mantra in my head. My feet moved to the rhythm of that chant. Every time a thought floated into my head about the pain, or how it’d feel so much nicer to just walk right now, I chanted in my head a little louder ‘I WILL NOT STOP.’
People overtook me, I didn’t care. I didn’t feel fast or slow, I just revelled in my movement. Every step was one step closer. I had to do this. If I quit now, when would I ever see it through?
I will not stop.
And then before I knew it, I came around the corner onto that last straight, finish line in sight, I picked my knees up and sprinted like my very life depended on it. My heart pounded, my lungs swelled and I crossed the line.
There was no medal, no ticker tape parade, no marching band, but that one Saturday morning in a park in Leeds, I’d done something that just a week before had seemed impossible.
As I walked home, I had what Oprah would call ‘an A-ha! moment.’ It occurred to me that if I could push through those three miles when everything in me wanted to stop, what else could I do? What if I’d walked, in life, when I really could’ve kept running. I’d been selling myself short and cutting myself off for years.
That day, I resolved to approach everything in my life the way I approached that 5K run - I was just not going to stop. Whatever the situation, if it was hard, uncomfortable, seemingly impossible, I was just going to keep going until I got there.
And then, gradually, life started to change. As I went out on more runs, going a little further each time (just get to that next tree, that post box, that bus stop…), I became more focused, more driven, more confident. I was producing better work, I was pushing for what I wanted, drawing up plans for a life that I couldn’t have imagined the year before. Every time I ran a little further or faster, it reassured me that I could do anything I put my mind to, if I just kept that level of focus.
You have to trust your struggle. Trust that it’s more than this moment of breathlessness, these shaking muscles, the dread of having to do one more rep. Embrace it, own it - the struggle is where your story lies.
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