You Can Do Anything

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” ― Ann Voskamp

Everyone should have a standing weekly taco date. On the way home from mine Wednesday night, a friend and I stopped by our favorite neighborhood pub where we happily ran into some familiar faces enjoying some quality local music talent.

During a break, an old friend of my buddy, and a new friend of mine, kindly told me that she had recently started reading my blog and how much she really liked it. That was pretty nice of her, right? She also mentioned that she had always wanted to run, but after a few unpleasant past experiences had accepted that some people love to run, and some people just don’t. And even though she wished that it wasn’t true, she was in the “some people just don’t” category.

I believe that is entirely possible. I really do. Just because I love something does not mean that it is intrinsically and undeniably lovable. All that it really means is that I love it. Me. I do. Luckily for us all, opinions vary.

She explained that she had tried running on a few different occasions and that she and a friend had even decided to run the Rock and Roll Half Marathon a few years ago. But after doing some training runs (I believe she mentioned getting up to at least a six mile run), it just wasn’t enjoyable. “I’ll stick to swimming,” she said.

Again, I can totally see that being the case. I love running. But I love Brussels sprouts and can’t stand marshmallows, so my opinions are probably pretty suspect.

(Unfortunately, one of the things that kept running from being enjoyable was the breast discomfort of running. That is something that I cannot speak to as I am currently boobless. Any well intentioned sports bra or other remedy suggestions anyone might have would be gladly accepted and passed along. Thanks)

Now, I’m not always the best conversationalist, or I would probably know simple things like how long had she actively been training before that six mile run, or if she ever ended up running that half marathon at all. But I’m a little lacking in my people skills sometimes and I rarely ask what, to most people, would be obvious questions. So for the sake of my eventual point, I’m going to allude to small errors that I suspect others have made whether my friend actually made them or not.

What is my point? You CAN do anything you want to do. But you may have to start small, maybe even very small.

Many people will say that they “can’t” run, or can’t do any number of other things for that matter. And I believe that is because they either set unattainably high early goals and/or they start so aggressively that they exceed their physical limitations and get discouraged by pain, discomfort, or even injury. But in most cases, a slower and smaller initiation into a new challenge can make all the difference between enjoying success in that venture and suffering discouraging results that eventually lead to cessation. And why wouldn’t you quit doing something that makes you feel shitty? I would. I have.

“Forget perfect on the first try. In the face of frustration, your best tool is a few deep breaths, and remembering that you can do anything once you’ve practiced two hundred times.” ― Miriam Peskowitz

I’ve tried to learn new things on the guitar several hundred times in my life, but I’m impatient. When I’m trying to learn or write a song, I’ll mess with it for a little while, maybe get a rough version of it down, and then immediately move on without ever fully realizing the song. Or I’ll never even get close to getting it right…and move on. At times, I’ve displayed a pretty incredible will to quit when faced with a goal that isn’t easily achievable.

Instead of trying to learn whole songs, I’ve recently started making myself practice guitar scales for a whopping five minutes a day. Five minutes! That’s it. I’ve got that time, whether I always want to admit it or not. Shit, I make a cup of tea at some point almost every night. Just waiting for the water to boil is enough time to fit this fledgling habit into my schedule. So I do.

old pic, but I'm too tired to pose for another one right now.

old pic, but I’m too tired to pose for another one right now.

It’s an easy goal to achieve, and it benefits me in at least two ways.

1) I’m practicing scales. I’ve played guitar for almost 18 years, and on my really good days, I’m decent. I’m not going to change the world with the instrument, but I’ve enjoyed countless hours with it, so I’ve already bettered my world. But after so many years of playing, I still don’t know a single scale. And ignorance is always limiting, whether it’s pertaining to something important like my required job skills or more recreational things in my life like playing guitar. Now I can honestly say I’m working on that…for five minutes a day anyway.

2) I’m playing guitar more. Just starting is often the hardest part of any endeavor. I love playing, but between years of poorly prioritizing my life and a current schedule that I keep pretty well full, I’ve let it slip a little bit from my routine. Making myself practice scales for those few minutes means that I have to pick it up. And because I enjoy playing it, I very rarely find myself looking at the clock and waiting for those five minutes to run out so I can throw it from my hands and get back to all of that really important facebooking I have to do. Starting to practice leads to playing, maybe for 10 minutes, maybe for 30. But it’s all more than I might have played if I hadn’t committed myself to five minutes of practicing that C major scale that I didn’t even know two weeks ago.

Five minutes a day and I get to claim victory, because I set a goal that is so easily achievable that it’s hard to justify to myself why I wouldn’t do it. Baby steps.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible” –Francis of Assisi

When I decided on a whim, four months ago, that I needed to go for a run, I took a few minutes on google maps and laid out a quick 0.7 mile route in my neighborhood. Then I laced up some old neglected running shoes, put on some headphones, stepped out my front door, and started running away from my apartment. I probably made it about 0.1 miles before I was completely winded, and maybe 0.10001 miles before I was walking. But when I caught my breath, I started running again…until I had to walk again. And I did that stopping and starting, walking and running, over and over again for two laps, 1.4 miles, or as I was saying at the time “about a mile and half.” It felt more respectable to say it that way. I think it took me over 20 minutes.

And after that very first “run,” I felt AMAZING!!

I cannot emphasize that enough. I never try to sell anyone on the joys of running. If I had not felt that immediate buzz after my very first outing, there is absolutely no guaranty that I would have ever done it again. And so when someone tells me that they don’t like running, I just assume that they did not get that feeling. And without that rush, I wouldn’t like it either. It makes total sense to me.

It was probably a month and a half before I could run a mile continuously and I know it was almost 11 weeks before I could run two. Everything takes time. I ran my very first 5K on December 8 and finished it in less time than that first run in September. I’ve run three more races since. And after work this afternoon, I ran 11 miles in an hour and 45 minutes. In a month, I’m going to run my first half marathon.

Anything is possible. But it may take a little bit of time.

I also didn’t get to my heaviest lifetime weight last summer by swallowing one giant deep fried cheeseburger wrapped in a stuffed crust pizza. I did it by taking several trillion bites of extra tacos, sausage biscuits, and hot wings on top of what healthier foods I was also eating to support the denial of my poor food habits. And the only regular exercise I was getting was a steady regiment of diminishing 12 and 16 ounce right arm curls as I washed so much of my diet down with too many beers.

I didn’t lose that weight with one lap around the block either. I cleaned up my diet. I used better portion control to eliminate excess empty calories. Then I started running and exercising regularly. The weight fell off. I don’t miss it.

I’m NEVER giving up my tacos though. Tacos are delicious…just can’t eat six of those wonderful treats anymore. I can live with that.

Very few things, good or bad, positive or negative, happen overnight. And you can baby-step your way into just about anything. You might as well try and make those baby steps towards a positive direction. If you don’t make it all the way, you tried. Even in coming up short, you’re that much closer to something greater than where you started. And the learning experienced even in what may be considered “failed” attempts can’t be taken away. All learning improves the chances of success the next time you try. And you will try again.

“Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” ― Swami Satchidananda

During our conversation, the friend I mentioned earlier expressed a love of the trails at a park near her home. She even suggested that I might enjoy running there; telling me how beautiful and peaceful it is and how it’s roughly four miles long, but laid out in such a manner that with different crisscrosses could be stretched to any distance I desired.

She mentioned how much she loves walking that trail with her dog a couple of times a week. It later occurred to me that if she is already there two or three times a week, and she’s walking the trail, then she’s already crossed two of the biggest hurdles to becoming the runner that she’s wanted to be. Hell, if she’s hitting the trail a couple of times a week, running or walking, she’s already a runner in my book. She just doesn’t know it yet.

All she has to do now is find more comfortable workout attire (again, I’m counting on some help from any ladies out there), and start running. But start running knowing that she can stop any time she wants for as long as she wants, and start again whenever she wants for as long as she wants. And no matter how long those distances are, she’s a runner.

Anyone can do it. If running is intimidating, walk. Try walking faster than you normally do. How fast do you think you can walk? There are walking divisions in some races, and the pace that people are WALKING those distances is insane.

Go to your favorite park or even the street in front of your house and start walking. Walk fast. Then when you’re feeling sassy, just run to that tree up there. Not that one. The other one. Yeah, that one. And when you get to that tree, start walking again for as long as you want to; whether it be a few hundred feet or a few days. You already accomplished your goal. You ran to that tree. Congratulations. When you’re comfortable again, run to that other tree; that one just a few feet further away. And then start walking again. Do that for as long as you want, as many days as you want (providing you allow for recovery days when you know you know you’ve exerted yourself). And when you don’t want to walk/run anymore, don’t. You’re your only coach. Tell yourself to hit the showers. You’ve earned it.

If you want to run, stark walking. If you want to play guitar, practice. If you want to change your diet, start by changing the smallest part imaginable (e.g. eat the ice cream, but skip the chocolate syrup). If you want to swallow swords,…uh…start with knives? I don’t know about that last one. But you can baby step your way towards any goal. Everything takes time and trying to do too much all at once can seriously sabotage your success.

Do whatever you want. Do it at the speed of comfort. And if you don’t like it, stop. But don’t say that you can’t. You can do anything.

Bright side-note of running: Once you’ve burned 1500 calories in less than two hours, you will experience zero guilt in eating a mound of food like this for dinner. Baked sweet potato, quinoa, smothered in veggie chili, and a little avocado on the side. It was delicious. Happy Friday.

post run pile

13 responses to “You Can Do Anything

  1. I’m not a runner, but I enjoy your posts!…I appreciate your slow and steady philosophy and total rejection of the ‘I can’t’ claim. I’m trying to teach my 5 yr old daughter about the difference between olympian thinking and stinkin’ thinkin’…of course, I have to learn to live it so that when she gets old enough she doesn’t think I’m a fraud. Working on that!

    By the way, I can’t remember the last name of he Olympian that coined the phrase Olympian thinking but I heard her speak once on a podcast on the Shift network…I recommend Googling the phrase…her story about how after anr injury she mentally trained (no physical training) for Olympics trials is amazing!

    • Thank you. Don’t give me too much credit for “my philosophy” yet. I’m still trying to figure the whole thing out myself. But I’ve realized that what I’ve been doing for most of my life wasn’t working, so I’m trying something else. And so far, I’m pleased with the results. We’ll see what happens.

      And I think Marilyn King is the athlete you’re talking about. I had never heard of her before, but it is pretty incredible what she was able to accomplish with just mental focus. It’s hard to find information about her online that doesn’t seem a commercial for her speaking engagements and seminars though. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice blog! One of the things that allowed me to enjoy running that much more was filling the time while I was running with something useful. There’s always something I’m not doing, that I need to be doing (or want to be doing), when I’m out running. For me, that’s learning. So…I found a bunch of podcasts or books and instead of listening to music I listened to things that made me smarter while I was off on that long run. I listed to 1776 by David McCullough entirely over long runs and lots of other books.

    • You’re a stronger man than I am. The release of running is the “useful” part for me, and that time with my thoughts allows me to “learn” all kinds of things…about myself and the world around me. I listen to music, and I guess depending on the book I could maybe do that. But I suspect that you’re listening to pretty heavy stuff, and I couldn’t see myself doing that. I sometimes listen to podcast while riding a bike, but I don’t want the chaos of this world polluting my time out running. It’s suffocating enough as it is.

  3. Running for me…is about winning. Not about beating out anyone else for 1st place or 2nd place…it’s about beating ME and doing it better than I did last time. It’s about finishing. It’s about that adrenaline rush I get when I see the finish line and I can smile and say, “I did it.” Whatever the distance, I can do it, and I did it. I am one of those strange people who does NOT love to run…but I do it anyway. I hate the training for a Half Marathon (which is why my training for the Shamrock has been awful!), but I love being out there on race day, with fellow runners, waiting for the horn to blow and crossing that start line. I love being totally worn out and seeing the finish line in the distance and getting my 2nd wind. I love being able to say “I am a runner.” It is never easy for me…no matter what the distance. I am always winded when I finish, because I push myself, I am always dripping in sweat, no matter what the temperature is…but the one thing that rings true, after every single run, no matter how hard it was, no matter how much I dreaded doing it, when I finish, I am always proud..and always happy I did it. That’s why I go back. My first Half Marathon, I stood at the start line and cried, out of happiness, because I just could not believe I was doing it. I could not believe that just a couple years before that, I battled cancer and now I was standing at the start line for my first Half Marathon. It was unbelievably emotional for me. Thanks again for a great blog post!
    Oh..and for you friend…moisture wicking running clothes, NO COTTON!, at least 2 (yes, wear them at the same time!) good, supportive sports bras, and Body Glide anti chafe balm…put it on every body part that might chafe…yes, every body part!

    • The things you love about running (the internal competition, personal achievement, rush/pride of finishing etc.) are probably the biggest motivators for a lot of distance runners. It has to be. While I love running, that is not enough to get me through long runs. There is nothing particularly lovable about stiff and sore ankles and other aches and pains the next day. But I do that because I want to do well in my race.

      As I continue to learn about the sport, and myself, I’ve almost come to the conclusion that long training runs and short runs are almost totally different sports. Shorter runs are exhilarating without being exhausting. And they seem easier to settle into a groove sometime. I love the therapy of being alone with my thoughts while I’m out there. That release makes the rest of the day or night that much more relaxing and enjoyable for me. Longer runs are exhilarating in the fact that I could accomplish them, but they require more mental focus to complete and therefore can be slightly less of a mental release. And they can sometimes wipe me out and make me kind of useless after that…unless making chili and having a drink is considered useful.

      I’ll see you in a month. Thanks for the comfort suggestions too. I need to take some of that advice myself. It’s unfortunately not uncommon for me to end up bleeding from uncomfortable places after a long run. But this newbie has to learn the hard way.

  4. I agree with you – you CAN do most anything. Whether or not you will enjoy it is another matter entirely… I know many people (cough.. my in laws) who claim that they “can’t” run. Sorry, but that isn’t true. You CAN run, you just don’t like it. Or you *think* you can’t.

    I’m convinced that it is all 99% mental – the things that we “can’t” do. Before I broke my foot, I claimed that I “couldn’t” swim laps. But when it was my only option, I did (and still do). Do I like it? Not really, but I still do it because deep down I know it’s good for me (read: good for my running).

    If someone doesn’t end up liking running, that’s cool. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea -but I hate it when they won’t even TRY.

    I love your analogy to playing the guitar. Makes me wanna go get out my flute and play scales. =)

    • I think SUAR posted a blog about all of the stuff runners have to do just so they can run better, basically saying “All I really want to do is run. But to run well and avoid injury, I have to do things I don’t enjoy like swim, cycle, weight train, etc. etc.” I’m a horrible swimmer and don’t currently have access to a pool, but I’m going to work on that swimming issue when the weather puts all of the coastal waters back into play this spring. It should be fun…i hope.

      In the past I have refused to try new things and claimed that “I can’t” do them (e.g. dancing), so I try not to get too down on people making the same error in reference to running. But basically, I’m finding that I was wrong, so are they, and we’ve all got a lot of learning to do. I’ll start with me, and they can come along if they want. It’s all part of the journey.

      Thanks for reading, and happy training. We’ve only got a month to go.

  5. hey, I love this blog.
    but then I have a big intellectual crush on G. so there it is.

    I used to love running, did all tennis, field hockey, hurdles, 100, 400, the whole works, but then, wham hit by a car and had my knee operated on and the surgeon tells me i have Chondromalacia, my cartilage is destroyed.

    So, happy cheerful runners out there, including my boston marathon family members….there are some that can’t run, per se.

    i do love to do short sprints on forest trails with pooch and sprint on beach sand out here on the Pacific.

    Surfing is awesome for people like me.

    oh and I think the girl with the sports bra thing may have been trying to get you out to run in her hood. ; )



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