Two Words: I Can’t
I’ve spent years telling myself and others that I can’t do things: I can’t run. I can’t ski. No, I can’t actually lift my leg that high. No, I can’t do another push-up.
As you may have surmised by this point, I’m not naturally athletic. My talents lay elsewhere, generally in activities which are resolutely stationary.
Sidebar: A brief list of things I can do:
- Read entire books in one sitting
- Teach myself a song on the ukulele over the course of an afternoon
- Type 75 words per minute on my laptop while swilling Topo Chico at a coffee shop (but only when I’m copying words…my average goes way down while attempting to craft prose both witty and deep and I give myself time to doubt my abilities as a writer)
- Eat an entire package of cheese slices
You’ll notice these all involve a lack of movement, and oftentimes, a lack of human interaction along with a surplus of dairy.
So when it came to any fitness or sports-related endeavours I’ve embarked upon in the past, in my heart a small voice inside me whispered “You can’t,” thereby absolving me from shame when I didn’t, because, after all, I was just being realistic.
But late last fall, I decided to give running another try. I committed to the Rodeo Run, paid for it, and made a shirt—but I think, deep down, I still didn’t really believe that I could do it. That I’d actually cross the finish line on my own two feet (and not on a stretcher).
Everyone told me that I would exceed my expectations on race day—something about the atmosphere and adrenaline would ensure I would run faster and for longer than I thought possible—but I didn’t really believe them.
Still, friends insisted I’d surprise myself and encouraged me to set the bar high when creating a goal. Their suggestion? Shoot to complete the race in less than 75 minutes.
While I’d made a lot of strides in the last couple of months, my inner monologue had doubts. Average less than twelve minute miles? When I’d yet to do so on any practice runs?
That quiet but persistent voice in my head spoke up once again in response: You can’t.
Three words: This Girl Can
A few weeks before I ran my race, a video I’d shared on Facebook a couple years ago popped up on my “On This Day” memories.
The This Girl Can campaign, which is sponsored by the National Lottery in the UK for reasons I can’t quite understand, was created to be a “celebration of active women who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets” in an effort “to help [them] overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping too many women and girls from joining in.”
I remember loving this video the first time I saw it, but to be honest, I’d forgotten all about it until it showed back up on Facebook. I’m so glad that it did, because it gave me some much needed inspiration. It’s one thing to see a YouTube video of Lindsey Vonn, Olympian, doing sleds for Under Armor, or pic after pic of IRL peach emoji booties on my Instagram feed; it’s another, more gripping thing to me to see ordinary women, women who look more like me than elite athletes or Instagram models, joyfully giving it their all.
And that tagline: This. Girl. Can.
What a blessing those three words were to me in the last few weeks before the race. Whenever I wanted to quit during a training run, I’d turn up “Get Your Freak On” and just go. “I jiggle, therefore I am” indeed.
The Road to the Finish Line
Before I knew it, it was race day. My friend Jeni was running the 5K, so we went downtown together and were able to hang out before the race started. Once it was time to line up though, I was on my own: just me, and my music, and a few hundred other runners.
The first mile was exciting. I hadn’t realized there was a parade later that morning, so the streets of downtown Houston were lined with people cheering us on as we snaked around the course towards Allen Parkway. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run the whole race, but I had planned to run 3 of the 6.2 miles in whatever configuration felt right. Spurred on by the crowd, I powered through mile 1 at my fastest pace ever (9:37)…and then pooped out at mile 2.
I pressed on, alternating between jogging and walking every few minutes, somewhat encouraged by the fact that I saw several other runners around me doing the same.
However, by mile 5, the sun had finally broken through the clouds and the wind had picked up; I was hot and tired and ready to be done. I decided I needed to give myself a pep talk, which mostly consisted of me repeating a couple of Tumblr quotes in my head over and over again, occasionally pausing to remind myself that the fact I got up before the sun rose that morning and laced up my shoes was amazing.
Sidebar: I normally find this kind of rah-rah motivation unbearably cheesy, but I can’t deny that it helped.
For the sake of full-disclosure, here’s a bit of my stream of consciousness for you.
Beautiful girl, you were made to do hard things, so believe in yourself.
I’ve done lots of hard things. I think sometimes I forget about all of the hard things I’ve done. For me, completing a 10K was a hard thing. But not an impossible thing.
Forget stardust—you are iron. Your blood is nothing but ferrous liquid. When you bleed, you reek of rust. It is iron that fills your heart and sits in your veins. And what is iron, really, unless it’s forged?
You are iron.
And you are strong.
Okay, so if I’m being honest, I didn’t remember this whole quote word for word. I recalled seeing it on Tumblr ages ago and I have no idea where it came from, but I loved it then and I love it now. But the gist of it caught in my head and ran on a loop for most of mile five.
I forget sometimes about how strong I am too. Strength isn’t always measured in the number of pounds you can lift or the miles you can run. Sometimes we show our strength when we choose to do those hard things. Even when they’re really hard. Sometimes because they’re hard.
Beautiful girl, you were made to do hard things, so believe in yourself. You are iron. You are strong.
The Last 0.2
With less than a quarter mile to go, I could see the finish line. I could see it, and I knew that if I just pushed a bit further, I’d be there in less than a song.
I didn’t really know how I’d feel when I crossed the finish line—I think my first thought was “Don’t throw up, do not throw up.” Jeni was waiting for me at the end and handed me a bottle of Powerade, and I slumped over the barricade, trying to catch my breath.
A few minutes later, I surprised myself when I felt tears start to prick in my eyes as I walked up Allen Parkway to meet her at the after race party. I had spent so many years telling myself, “You can’t.” You can’t run. Your boobs are too big. You’re just not built for it. You’ll make yourself sick. You’ll only embarrass yourself.
Whatever my reasons were for deciding to do this, whatever outside influences pushed me to sign up and make the commitment in the first place, that finish was mine alone. I woke up at 6:30 AM on a Saturday, laced up my sneakers, and did a thing.
And you know what? I did that thing in 74 minutes and 3 seconds, despite the fact I’d convinced myself finishing in anything less than 75 minutes was impossible.
An hour or so later, I was scrolling through Facebook while Jeni and I were waiting on our Uber and saw a quippy post I’d made five years ago that day.
I laughed as I showed the post to Jeni. “How perfect!” I said. “My, how times have changed.”
I know that this accomplishment will not forever silence the voice in my head telling me that I can’t. I’m still working on building up my stamina and my mental toughness. But I do know that when that voice pipes up in the future, I can look back on this day as proof and say in response, “This girl can.”
Though Elise still struggles with calling herself a “runner,” she understood herself well enough to know that if she was going to continue on this journey, she’d need to keep setting goals. Another 10K in March turned into dreams of running a half-marathon at Disney next January (despite swearing that she would never), and finally a decision to make 2018 the Year of the Run, doing at least one race a month to hold herself accountable. If you don’t mind random pictures of plants and food, you can follow her progress on her Instagram account, ebaie787 and/or the tag #runnersarebaie.