For someone who spends a disproportionate amount of her free time running and writing about running, I have very few pictures of me actually engaged in the activity. Stopping mid-run and snapping a selfie is just uncomfortable. Race photos? Hate them, delete them. Also avoided: any glimpses of myself in the reflection of a storefront window as I run by. The truth of it is that I admire runners who capture and share the highs and lows of their training runs and races. But when it comes to pictures of me, I am afraid of what I might see. I am scared that instead of seeing strength, the images reflected back to me instead will feed all of my running insecurities and tear down whatever resolve I have to drive myself forward.
Last Wednesday, my coach scheduled a 6.5 mile track workout, embedded with 6x800s at a pace that, for me, is beyond aspirational and uncomfortable, … it borders on the physically impossible. Two weeks earlier, a shorter workout with 4x400 and only 2x800 pretty well kicked my ass to the pavement, so it is fair to say that my expectations for the 800s were not high. Compounding my less-than-enthusiastic mood, on the day of the workout a series of events constituting “life” interfered with my plan to get to the track, and at 7:30 at night I dragged myself to the gym instead.
By way of background, you should know that the university athletic center has been completely upended thanks to a two-year expansion project, and the treadmills (that used to be in the middle of an open workout room stuffed with coeds and professors and a conveniently distracting row of mounted TVs) have been relocated upstairs on the outer rim of an indoor track. During the day, from the treadmill you have a front row view of the comings and goings outside through floor to ceiling windows. At night, with the pitch black on the outside, the reflective coating on the glass, and the bright lights of the gym, you have nothing but a wall of mirrors.
More to the point, Wednesday night I had 6.5 miles with nothing to do other than to watch myself run.
You know when you find yourself in a room full of people you do not want to talk to and you find yourself taking extreme measures to avoid eye contact and disappear into the background? Well, that was me on that treadmill, except I was looking around to avoid eye contact with myself. It worked great during the warmup. Not so much when it was time to up my pace to the danger zone, with the accompanying risk that a misstep might cause me to fly off the back of the moving belt.
Reluctantly, and resolutely, I set my gaze forward and jacked up the speed.
This is what I saw:
My body and gait shifted into a higher gear in a way that was smooth and steady until it found its pace. These were legs that knew what to do, if only I trusted them to do their job.
As I notched up the speed, I involuntarily held my head taller and my back straighter, posturing strength and confidence.
There was an even rhythm to my arms pumping and feet pounding. They worked in concert. They had danced this dance together before.
And as I progressed from my first to sixth 800 and it got hard and my legs and lungs screamed, I stared myself the f*ck down in the damn mirrored windows with such fierce resolve and steady determination that I was absolutely incapable of failing. I could not, would not, fall short in this workout. Not on my own watch.
I stared down my insecurities.
And when I looked at myself in that mirror, confidence stared back.