When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I began to look for a way to channel my anger and anxiety. One day, I stumbled across an advertisement for the Los Angeles Marathon. I remember how my heart began to pound faster as I looked through their website.
Over 26 miles? It seemed practically impossible. I couldn’t even fathom it…even a 5k intimidated me.
And yet there was something about tackling the so-called impossible that made it seem like it was something that I had to try. After all…while intimating, this wasn’t something that I truly physically could not do. I’d just be doing something that was far out of my comfort zone. Far, far, far out of my comfort zone.
I signed up for the race, committing to train with a local group that would slowly increase our mileage over time. The slow, incremental progress plan made it seem a little less scary.
And then I started my own personal preparation, about 6 weeks before the official start of training.
Because I had never run any distance before, I had to start at the beginning: completing a 5k. I did this training on my own–first alternating between running and walking every 30 seconds, then upping my running time to a minute, then two minutes…and eventually I made it all the way to running a half hour straight. I did this over the course of 6 weeks, running daily, growing excited as I slowly began to accomplish tiny goal after tiny goal.
The day I ran that first 30 minutes without stopping, I felt like I could do anything. I had gone from “My-lungs-will-certainly-fall-out-of-my-chest” at the 1 minute mark to comfortably running for over a half hour, and it felt like the first step in conquering the impossible.
The key, I realized afterward, was consistent commitment and patience. But after that small victory, there was no way I was going to stop there.
I was just getting going.
A few weeks later, I trained with the marathon training group for the first time. The very first day, we ran 3 miles. This was 8 months from the actual marathon date–it was our starting point, the lowest of the low in terms of our training distance. The thing of which I had been so proud, my unbelievable accomplishment from just a few weeks earlier was now my new starting line.
It’s strange how a starting line can seem so relative. I learned then to never judge a starting line–it doesn’t measure where you’ll go, even if the distance is far. It just measures where you start.
As my mom progressed through her cancer treatments, my emotional solace came every Saturday morning when I would meet with my training group. Slowly, continuously, we pushed our limits. Each week we’d run just a little farther than we had before. We built our progress on the previous week’s foundation.
Sometimes all you have to do is push a little past where you were the last time you tried. If you keep doing that, eventually you’ll look back and realize that a few extra steps, time after time after time has added up to miles.
I customized my training shirt, painting “Running for My Mom” on the back. And every time I pushed past my comfort zone from the prior week, I’d get a mantra in my head: “If she can do it, so can I.” I’d say it over and over and over as I pushed past the burning lungs and aching legs and “you-can’t-do-this” thoughts.
Because hard things are easier when we face them together.
My mom ended her chemotherapy in November. She still had a few months of radiation ahead of her, but the chemotherapy erased all evidence of the cancer. By that time, I was up to running 14 miles with the training group. I had officially conquered my first half marathon, and dedicated every step of that journey to her. That Thanksgiving, we had a lot for which to be thankful.
There are times when we have to face challenges that seem insurmountable at the outset. The starting line feels like such a low point, and the finish line seems so far. But sometimes it’s just a matter of forgetting about how far away the finish line is and instead committing to going a little farther this week than you did the week before.
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it feels in the beginning like it is impossible.
And sometimes it helps you live into a potential that you never even knew you had within you.
All you have to do is be willing to step up to the starting line.