In January, I was wearing 10-year-old tennis. I may or may not have had them since high school. I honestly can’t remember when I bought them, just that I’d had them forever and I never used them except on random days when I decided to walk a lap in the park.
My workout mentor, Jo (Breathe Savannah,) encouraged me to buy real running shoes, but I resisted like a cat on a leash. “They’re too expensive.” “I don’t need them.” “I can’t afford groceries, I definitely don’t need running shoes.” But the first day we did some speed walking in the park? I chafed my ankles until they bled in those ten-year-old tennis, and I succumbed.
During the subsequent weeks, I’m surprised Jo didn’t strangle me. I laced and tied my shoes a different way every morning, and I re-tied them multiple times throughout the workout. I’d tie them, we’d walk to the park; I’d re-tie them and complain for three blocks. “They’re rubbing my ankles.” “My toes are numb.” “I should return them and get a better pair!” Then, I’d get half a lap in and have to re-tie my shoes…again.
But one day in late March, we got done with our workout and I realized that I had been outside, waiting for Jo, shoes tied, and I hadn’t thought about them the entire time or made her stop so I could adjust them.
And it’s had a ripple effect through everything.
I was clocking an 18-minute-walking mile when Jo suggested speed walking. She wanted to cut my mile down to 15 minutes. I tensed. There are some deep-seated emotional struggles in my mile time. I had a coach in Junior High who made the entire 8th grade wait for me to finish the timed-mile portion of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. He made every single one of my classmates bake on the metal bleachers in the late spring, Alabama-afternoon sun and watch me trudge through my last walking lap around the football field. It was a 20 minute mile I’ll never forget, and I was humiliated. I can still remember some of the boys in my class yelling my name in a drawn out, frustrated tone.
There was no way I could speed-walk a fifteen minute mile. I told Jo, “Running isn’t a goal of mine,” and “I just want to lose weight without becoming one of those people”—because to me, running and “those people” who did it for fitness symbolized a half dozen 8th grade boys and one Junior High coach yelling at me to just hurry up and finish.
I dragged my heels about it with Jo, and I broke down crying in one of the rare few times I’ve broken down crying with her while working out. But she promised to go at my pace, and we started small—sprints up and down her street, from her house to one trashcan, walk back, from her house to the second trashcan, walk back, from her house to the end of the block, walk back.
Next, we jogged two blocks from her house and walked back, then we ran for seven minutes without stopping, and she kept increasing the time incrementally—ten, twelve, fourteen minutes. And then one day she said, “Here’s my old watch. It’s set for 16 minutes. Run to the park, around it, another two blocks, and then come back. If it beeps before you’re done, keep going until you’re here.”
I ran the entire distance in 14:30.
It was nearly a mile.
I still have my old shoes, blood in them and all. I know, I know. Jo thinks I should trash them, too, but I just don’t know if I can let them go, yet. I still need them to sit there in the corner of my room and remind: Sometimes, you have to tie your shoes before you can take the first step. You can do it at your own pace, and that pace is harder, stronger, and faster than you ever imagined it to be.
And my current best mile? 12:46. Take that, 8th Grade. Take that.