The Narratives We Live By…

I learned something about myself the last few weeks.  Something good.  Or, I think it’s good.  And I think it is something that we can all learn from and should always remember. 

This is a story about me, but it’s really about everyone.  As always, I hope the deeper message is one that resonates with all because I think there is a deeper message here.  The message is one I am going to try to remember the next time I think all is lost (proverbially, or in reality). 

The message is one of narratives – things we believe.  Things we think we know.  Stories we tell ourselves.  Deep truths about ourselves that we assume are true. 

We spend a lot of time convincing ourselves (knowingly or unknowingly) about all sorts of things.

And sometimes we’re not telling ourselves the truth.

Even if we think we are. 

Even if we think we’re being completely honest with ourselves.

***

Like so much in my life, I found out this truth (about me telling myself a false narrative) while running.

I thought I knew who I was or who I had become.

And I was wrong.

I had been listening to something that I believed was true, only it wasn’t.

***

More than a few years ago, I ran the Chicago Marathon in what was for me, record setting time.  I ran it faster than I had run any other marathon in my life.

I ran that race, in 2006, in 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds.

I ran 26.2 miles, consecutively, on a brutally cold October morning at 7:50 per mile pace. 

I ran the whole thing at sub-eight-minute-miles.

Looking back now, that doesn’t even seem possible. 

I did that?  It defies logic. 

I can’t even run one mile that fast right now. 

My goodness. 

I was Superman. 

***

I was 38-years-old when I did that.  My forties came, and as they progressed, I got slower, and slower.

And slower.

I had minor aches and pains and tears.  I suffered through a stress fracture (and ran that year’s marathon anyway). 

What happens when we turn 40?  We get old.  Everyone tells us that.  We see our bodies changing.  We start to feel older.  Sometimes we even start to act old.

We start to believe certain narratives about aging.  We think they are true.  And sometimes we start to live our lives as if those narratives are true.

And as such, we make them true. 

By this time, I was running marathons at least an hour slower than that glorious day in 2006.

You know the tale.  Some of those tears got worse and worse.  Running became harder and harder.  And then I couldn’t run at all.  I finally had surgery last January. 

I followed all the rules of my PT.  I even did some of it virtually because of Covid.  I made great progress. 

I began running again.

Slowly.

***

Of course I ran slowly.

I’m now in my 50’s.

Old people run slowly.  That’s what they do.  If they run at all, it’s slow.

That’s the narrative.

I believed it.  And lived it.

***

Back when I was young and fast, I used to jump on my treadmill and set the speed for 8.0 miles-per-hour and go up from there.  Those were the days.

But now that I was old, even before the surgery and after certainly the surgery, my runs began at 5.0 miles-per-hour.  IF (a big “if”) I touched 6.0 MPH, on a run, that was pushing the limit.  It was WAY out of my comfort zone.  It was just too fast.

I figured that this is what comes with age. 

As we age, we slow down.

It all made sense.  And it does makes sense.

“I’m old and slow, but, at least I’m moving forward.” (That’s what I told myself.)

***

I figured I’d never run fast again.

Ever.

This was (as they say for a lot of things now) the new normal.

And I was okay with it.

***

And then the most amazing thing happened a few weeks ago.

I pushed hard on a run.  Real hard.  I ran fast (not like in the good old days fast, but fast for me fast).  I started a run a 6.0 MPH and went from there. 

I held that pace for a whole mile.

Then two.

Then three and four.

And then five.

I stopped at five miles.  (I didn’t want to press my luck.)

I found I can handle the higher speeds.  I thought this would kill me.  It didn’t.

It energized me!

***

The narrative I had been living for so long was that I could not handle faster speeds, that I had to run slowly. 

On a whim I challenged that thinking.

And I learned something about myself.

***

I have to wonder, how many other false narratives have a forced myself to live under.

“I can’t do ________”

“I’m too old for _______”

“I will never _________”

We can all fill in these blanks. 

Worse, we all do. 

And then we live by those limits we place on ourselves.

***

On a run, I shattered a whole bunch of narratives about myself. 

I don’t always run this “fast” when I run, but I am finding that I am doing it more and more.  I am finding that I also don’t need to start out as slowly any longer. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be “Chicago Fast” ever again, but I don’t think I have to be 2016 or 2017 or 2018 or 2019 or 2020 slow right now either.

I am rediscovering that I can do things I didn’t think were possible any longer.

I learned that I still have a little something left in the tank. 

And, of course, I am wondering how far I can push this. 

Can I start a run at 7.0 MPH… even if just for a mile?  Or two?

Is 8.0 a possibility again… ever?  Maybe?!

***

I think we live a lot of our lives based on the narratives that we experience, the ones we live, and the ones we tell ourselves are true. 

I was telling myself a narrative.  (“You are older.  Your body has slowed down.  You will never be fast again.”)

It all made sense, except it might have been a lie, or an untruth… or maybe just an exaggeration. 

Maybe I’m not so old, or slow, or washed-up.

Maybe I have more in me.

Maybe if I can run like I once did.  I can do other things as well.

Life is too short.

Why put limits on what we believe we can do?

***

Have you seen those Progressive commercials, the ones that talk about not becoming your parents?  Those make me laugh.  I don’t want to turn into my mom and dad (as much as I love them).  And I’m sure my kids don’t want to turn into me.

There is one commercial where a guy sits in a chair and does that sigh/grunt thing.  You know the sound.  The old man sigh or grunt that they do when the get up or sit down. 

I don’t want to be that guy.

(But I am sometimes, and probably more often than I think.)

That’s a narrative we tell ourselves.  “It’s tough to get up.”  “It’s tough to sit.”  “I’m old.”  “I’m slow.” 

“I can’t do this.”

“I can’t do that.”

***

We tell ourselves stories and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves aren’t true. 

But we believe the stories and we act is if they are true.

All of this made me wonder what other falsehoods I am telling myself. 

Where am I being less than I could be or should be because I believe something about something?

These are powerful questions that I think we have to ask ourselves always.

Where am I holding myself back?

Where am I not being all I can be?

Where can I improve?

Where must I improve?

***

Running often teaches me bigger things about myself and life itself.

It’s not about how far or fast I can run.

But it is about how I can learn new ways to become the best ME I can be. 

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