When I was in high school, I remember having to take the Presidential Fitness test. It was a nationwide physical fitness exam that required things like touching your toes, doing sit-ups and pull-ups and running the mile in a certain amount of time. Every year, I failed the mile test.
For years and years afterwards, I decided I wasn’t athletic and I definitely wasn’t a runner. That I wasn’t ever going to be a runner. So for almost 2 decades, I avoided going on a treadmill or doing anything that required running. I mean, what was the point? I wasn’t going to be good at it at, ever.
About 6 or 7 years after high school, I started doing yoga. Like running, I didn’t feel like I was very good at it. But the teachers I had were encouraging and told me that I didn’t need to compare myself to anyone else. That there were no winners and all I had to do was to show up. So even though I couldn’t touch my toes, at least I wasn’t a failure again.
But a very interesting thing happened. A few years into my yoga practice, I found that I COULD touch my toes. Eventually, I could actually even get my whole hand on the floor. After I started teaching yoga, I remember talking to my eye doctor about the Presidential Fitness test and she, too, was scarred by it. Not by the mile run but by the touch-your-toes test. She said she could NEVER do yoga because she could never pass that part of the test. Of course, her way of thinking sounded eerily familiar. But my experience with yoga had shown me that not only did she not have to touch her toes to start, she would certainly be able to do it in time if she wanted to. “All you need is technique and practice,” I told her.
But that got me thinking. Perhaps my mindset about running was all wrong. I mean, no one had ever given me any technique to learn or provided a safe and encouraging space in which to practice. In retrospect, it made sense that that test was demoralizing, because once a year, without any preparation whatsoever, they would say “run a mile in less than xx minutes.” So I falsely came to believe I just wasn't capable of doing it.
So, now I work with a trainer who makes me run. She has me run on the treadmill for a very short amount of time in intervals. But she is giving me technique and a safe and encouraging place practice. All I have to do is show-up and try. I feel like I'm capable. That I was always capable. That the mile run test was the start of a stupid story written to hold me back. I've decided that story is over.