Yesterday morning at boot camp, I teetered on the verge of crying. Not from pain, unless you count the mental kind. I could barely hear the complaints of my muscles over the cruel and negative messages in my head.
I was OK while we were warming up and doing squats. I joined in the banter and the commiseration about it being 5:30. Then it was time to run laps and my brain started thinking things about myself that no one should have to hear. I imagined anyone ever saying things like that to my daughter. Telling her she was fat and hopeless. Telling her she shouldn’t bother. Telling her it was never going to get better. Telling her she probably didn’t deserve to feel better about herself. That’s when I wanted to cry.
Because I was last. Slowest. The only one having to stop to walk in six minutes of running. Marissa, who started coming to boot camp years ago because I encouraged–she lapped me. I couldn’t catch up with April, who used to be my running buddy a couple of years ago. New people, tiny people, genetically predisposed to speed, zipped past me, carrying on conversations with each other as they bounced along. I lumbered down the lines on the basketball court and lurched around the corners. Trying not to cry.
Here’s the kind of junk that rang between my ears: It’s been TWO whole weeks since I started back to exercising and I’m STILL not in shape! Everyone notices when I have to walk. I’m really too fat to do this. And it’s probably too late to turn this truck around–I’m 45. I weigh twice what that girl who clocked a 3:30 marathon weighs. I could be asleep but I’m out here embarrassing myself. It’s never going to get any better.
Since there was no one behind me, I tried to think about the legions of people who aren’t there because they decided not to try. That’s something, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chatter in my head. The song from our coach’s ipod switches to Pink’s “Sober” and I truly hear the line: “When it’s good then it’s good, it’s so good till it goes bad Till you’re trying to find the you that you once had.” Yep.
That’s when April, the founder of WoW! Boot Camp hollered the thing that got through to me: “One victory at a time!”
That was it. I gave myself a tiny bit of credit for the victories I had already racked up since 5:01 when my alarm went off. Getting out of bed. Getting myself dressed. Getting there. TRYING. Not rolling over and quitting.
My head was hanging at that point, but I looked at my feet in the running shoes that I bought for my last half-marathon, the one before Carlos was even on the radar. I willed my right foot to run a step and it did. Victory. Then the left foot. Victory. Each footstep a victory and I ran two fresh laps with my head up instead of walking because I was only thinking about the footstep that I was making, not the last one, not the next one, not the one I ran five years ago. Not the one I will run six months from now. Just this one, this victory.
While I ran, I thought about other “one victory at a time” moments. My sister who chooses every day to stay sober. My friend who doesn’t answer the phone when it’s a person who makes her feel bad about herself, even if that person is her mother. The friend who can sit next to a smoker and not bum a cigarette. The friend who resists the bait when a coworker fires an email at her with red caps and lots of exclamation points. The mom who chooses talking over yelling. The friend who sleeps in the center of the bed because it’s hers now. One step at a time, not the whole race at once.
I finished the workout–at my own pace–and by 6:30 a.m. I was feeling euphoric. I sat in the car, waiting for my butt heater to warm up and reading my email. The daily message from Seth Godin popped up on my phone: “Gradually, Then Suddenly.” That’s a quote from Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises: “How did you go bankrupt? Gradually, then suddenly.” Seth’s message was about how businesses fail that way–making small bad decisions that no one worries about along the way, then a sudden collapse that everyone sees. The good news is that careers can be made the same way–years of slogging away, worrying that your tiny efforts aren’t having any impact then BAM. You become the overnight success who’s been working hard at it for ten years. Like when Shelby Lynne won the Grammy for Best New Artist for her SIXTH album!
That’s when I finally cried all those tears I had refused to cry when I was feeling bad about running in last place. I sat in the dark parking lot, in the privacy of my car, and cried with relief that I might still have a Suddenly in my future, even if the Gradually was tough.
Gradually, then suddenly. One victory at a time.