Running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last October, there were several moments when I wanted to give up. As the pain exploded in my right foot and my pace slowed to a walk, I remember thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ Everything just evaporated. The ease with which I was running. My breathing. My mental toughness. And my chance at setting a personal best. Over the years, running taught me I could do hard things. Only there I was, pulling off to the side to stretch, breathe, wallow, and attempt to regain my focus. But when I started running again, I knew I was in trouble.
Become Who You Really Are
We talk about natural-born leaders. Maybe you have heard someone you know described as a natural-born athlete. Or how someone else is ‘gifted’ at what they do. Let me be upfront about one thing: I am not a natural-born runner. My first ‘serious’ attempt at sports came in Grade 9 when I joined the cross-country team. But I had an ulterior motive: to get on the good side of my math teacher and coach of the team. And when I started running in my early twenties, I gave up after only a couple of months because of a knee issue and, more importantly, a lack of motivation.
Fast forward to 2008, and everything changed when I stepped on a scale and saw that I weighed close to 205 pounds. I wanted to believe that the scale was broken, but staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I could see that my face was fuller. Worse even was how my pants were getting tighter. And I was horrified when, shopping for new clothes, I realized that to be truly comfortable I had to go up a size. Nah ah. No way. That forced me out the door on a cold February night determined to learn how to run. To do hard things, I had to step out of my comfort zone. And when you do that, you grow and become who you really are.
On the Other Side of Fear
On that first run, I had no plan for how I was going to do it. I just ran, the cold air filling my lungs, until breathing turned to gasping and I had no choice but to switch to walking. Despite the negative self-talk that was rampant in my head in the days that followed, I kept running—slowly but surely building up my endurance and eventually running nonstop. And with more time, my pace improved and the distances I covered increased. But to achieve that, I had to let go of the fear of failing. Fear of not being able to run long distances. Fear of injuries and being sidelined. Or the fear of being mocked.
Whatever we are starting—marathon training, writing a novel, learning to sculpt—we have to give ourselves grace to fail. We are beginners and just learning the ropes. It is through our trials and errors that we will grow and, eventually, find our groove. I mentioned this in a blog post earlier this year, but I never expected running to stick. Better yet, I had early on written-off the idea of running a marathon, let alone two. Because I was terrified that I’d never be able to run 42.2 km. But once I stepped on the other side of fear, I could do hard things. And I challenged myself to learn and grow.
Do Hard Things
As a runner, writer, and in my professional career, I have failed multiple times. Yet from each ‘failure’ I mined for the lessons that would help me do better the next time. Even when I wanted to give up, I didn’t. When you do hard things, you need to build the mental toughness to persevere.
When we do hard things, as Steve Magness writes in his book, Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness, we need to be honest with ourselves about the situation and what it demands. Magness continues, “Toughness is about embracing the reality of where we are and what we have to do. Not deluding ourselves, filling ourselves with a false confidence, or living in denial.”1
If we want to grow, and step into who we really are, we must get out there and do hard things.
- Magness, S. (2022). Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness, HarperOne, p. 43.