I AM a runner.

When I run, I feel like I am in an altered state of mind, but my body gets to feel all the benefits. Much of the act of running requires a whole other level of mental awareness and processing. Yet, with endorphins kicking in there are all kinds of breakthrough, higher level thoughts, that I wouldn’t normally experience. Where I have spent much of my earlier years experiencing mental anguish over my past, I find that when I am on a run, I recognize my power even amid my (temporary) physical pain or struggle. This is not to say that running is all pain or struggle — much the opposite usually. What it means is that when I am pushing myself past my comfort zone and the struggle is real, something kicks in and says, “You are a badass!” and “Look at all that you have accomplished or overcome in your life!” It’s like this whole other person talking to me and the self-talk takes on a whole new persona. I bring this up, because I only started running 22 months ago, and it still doesn’t cease to amaze me.

Rewind to my junior and senior years in high school, age 16–17. I joined the Cross Country (long distance running) team and absolutely loved the camaraderie and the “team” aspect. However, I was severely slow and in cross country meets, I would end up in the bottom 3 spots, which felt like a joke compared to some of my peers who were among the best runners in the state at that level. They never treated me that way! Even the best athletes on the team (male and female) were very supportive and positive. With my already pummeling self-esteem, depression, and home life stress, however, I was constantly beating myself up for my lack. Eventually, I had shin splints that were hard to get rid of and my mental health took a nose dive. I couldn’t finish my senior year of Cross Country, and I don’t even know if I ran again the rest of that year. That was it.

Ten to fifteen years later, I’m living my adult life. I’ve experienced a trauma, I’m recovering from alcoholism for quite a few years, I’m working on my master’s degree in psychology, I’m working full time, etc. I’ve struggled with my weight off and on since my early 20’s, and getting myself to exercise is a constant battle that I’d love to win, but have absolutely no game plan for, let alone the tenacity to follow-through with it. I become interested in various types of exercise, but I keep posting magazine ads of individual women running on my vision boards, and I’m noticing runners everywhere. I longingly look at these people with jealousy or envy thinking “I wish I were one of ‘those’ people…but I’m not”.

Fast forward to 2015. I’ve now survived a horrible divorce and custody battle, discovered I’m in love with a beautiful woman (how the hell did that happen?), and had a child. I’m doing some multi-level-marketing stuff for a health and wellness company, which leads to personal development. Along with personal development comes an itch, and I mention “running” to an acquaintance, get challenged to join a running meet-up group, and do so. I watch the group, and after a few months it closes. Ok, so now I join another running meet-up group (that seems out of my league), and again, I watch the events for months.

In the meantime, I’m actively back in Weight Watchers (4th time), and through a series of events, I mention to my Weight Watchers leader at my meeting (ironically a runner) that I’ve always wanted to be a runner. He asks if I can run one time this week, and I say “Well, yah, I guess”.

Naturally, I think about it all week, walk a couple times and avoid it until a half hour before my Weight Watchers meeting starts. I panic and I ask my partner “Do you think I can make it to my Weight Watchers meeting if I leave now and run there?” She looks at me with that “I think you’re joking, but I can see that you’re not, and I want to ask you if your nuts, but I can see that’s the wrong answer” look. Because she’s awesome, she says “Sure, get dressed, I’ll help you pack your stuff”. She packs a bag while I get dressed in “running” clothes, leave at 12:45pm and promptly run the 1.3 miles from our condo to the meeting, crossing loads of Michigan State University Football Saturday traffic on the way. I make it to the meeting at 1:00pm. I was NOT going into that meeting without saying I had done what I had agreed to do! It was like enough was enough. I may have stayed in fear all week long and fought it, but I had to do it! Of course, when I reported this to the group my Weight Watchers leader, said “Great! Now what are you going to do this week?” CRAP! I hadn’t thought of that. I answered, “Run two times this week?” He supported this and suggested maybe I don’t wait till Saturday to do it this time. Fair enough.

For a few weeks, I ran 2–3 times per week on my own. I pushed from a mile to two miles, and I puked. Ok, frustrating, but I just need to take it easy. At one point, I did 2.5 miles. I was enjoying it, and I felt good, but it was so hard. I still questioned if I was really a runner. I continued to watch the meet-up group. One day in early October I saw a meet-up run for the coming Saturday, and I ran out of excuses. I did my RSVP, and for two days I panicked about it. I told my co-workers I thought I was nuts. The people in the meet-up were posting about doing 10–15 miles on this one run! Who did I think I was? How was this going to work? Surely none of these people were running as slow or as few miles as I was.

That Saturday morning, I got up early, got ready, and started driving to the meet-up. Halfway there, I realized I was going to the wrong location. Insert panic, fear, and self-doubt. I figured “I am never going to make it. See, I wasn’t meant to do this. I’m not a real runner anyway. I’ll be late now so they’ll leave without me”. Blah, blah, blah. I drove there anyway, and when I got out of the car I was so nervous that I started anxiously shoving quarters in the parking meter. A car pulled up a few parking spots down and a guy got out dressed in running clothes. I looked over and said, “Are you a runner?” He said “Yes” and followed with a friendly “You don’t have to put money in the parking meter. It’s Saturday!” Oh. Now I feel even smarter. He introduces himself and asks if it’s my first time here (he obviously knew it was). He took me into the coffee shop and introduced me to a group of people standing in a circle warming up. They all looked like professional runners to my naïve eye. They all introduced themselves and discussed how many miles they were each planning on running and I explained I had only run about 2.5 miles ever, and I had no clue. We all started out together and the nice gentleman ran alongside me. The group stayed together for about a half a mile and then people started pairing off and adjusting to their own speeds. We were on our way!

That day, I ran 5.5 miles! The nice gentleman stayed with me the whole run, and I quickly learned that he had been the main group organizer of the meet-up for the past 7 years. He explained how the meet-ups went, which nights people ran, what the vibe of each run was, and mentioned some interesting facts about some of the other runners. Afterward, everyone ended up back at the same coffee shop and we all had coffee or ate breakfast. I was in love with the running meet-up! A couple weeks later I joined another meet-up with various members of the same group and Tuesdays and Saturdays were my regular running days for at least a year. They still are.

Today I run an average of 3–5 days per week most weeks anywhere from 10 to 35 miles per week. I’ve run a 10-mile race, a half-marathon, and I’m training for my first marathon. It took almost a year for me to move from “I’ve just started running” to “I AM a runner” when I was talking to people about my running. You see, I never realized that during the initial miles my body was just warming up and that if I pushed past 2–3 miles, that’s where it gets easier. Like all things in life, I expected it to be easy or to get easy quickly and it when it didn’t I assumed “Well I guess I can’t just do this and this isn’t for me”. How wrong I was! I am not considered a fast runner, and I’m not perfect. I have a lot to learn about running, as I am only at the beginning of this journey. The running analogy, as it relates to the rest of my life, demonstrates a couple of important life lessons.

The morals of the story are that 1) Pushing past your comfort zone is where the miracles happen. You have absolutely no clue what you can do if you decide to take the action steps to do it. All the fear in the world does not mean that you are not capable of doing exactly that which you so strongly desire. The fear-based excuses are a fictional story that you are telling yourself, and they are not real. If you are willing to get uncomfortable, you can overcome. 2) Let people help you when they are there to help. Had I never allowed that “nice gentleman” to support me, I would never have gone back and I would not be where I’m at today, physically or mentally. I have enjoyed the fruits of humility on this nearly two-year journey as I listen to countless runners share their experience with me and give me helpful advice. 3) When you experience your own transformation, you now can positively influence others to experience their transformation! So many people have followed my running progress, cheered me on and even asked me for advice on getting started with running! Friends, family and clients have all responded with interest and have asked questions, leading many of them to running on their own! I feel the positive vibration rising, and it feels amazing!

And so it is, I AM a runner.

Lauren Zolecki-Polzin, Online Trauma Coach, Soul to Substance