My cross country coach at Marian High School used to say the hardest thing about long-distance running was neither the distance nor the running.
It was not the 300 miles we were supposed to run over the summer. It was not the dreaded hill at Benson Park we called “Green Monster.”
It was not the heat or the cold or the homework or other obligations standing like hurdles on the sidewalks of our lives.
“Girls,” coach Roger Wright would say, “the hardest thing is getting out the door.”
This refrain echoed in my brain after opening a Christmas “gift” that involves an early morning exercise class. As shocking as that hour of physical exertion will be to a body that hasn't been very active lately, the bigger challenge will be stumbling out of the house in the dark and cold at an ungodly hour. And to do this every day, at least until the prepaid 10-week period is up.
The hardest step will be that first one out the door.
Here we are, once again, at the doorstep of a new year.
New Year's Day offers so much promise and hope for righting last year's wrongs. Recovering from our holiday eating-drinking-spending hangover, we resolve to become better people. We will spend less and exercise more. We will write thank-you notes and balance the checkbook. We will be on time and be mindful of what matters and ditch our screens for real face time.
We will do these things for about five minutes.
Then, as studies and personal experience show, many of us will fall off the wagon and bemoan our lack of resolve.
But not all of us. Some people quit smoking or drinking. Others start running in their 50s. Some end bad habits and start good ones.
Dr. Carl Greiner, a psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, offers some tips. Start small. Write down your goals. Tap into a support network of friends or family — or, in his case, a personal trainer — who will encourage you.
He also said to be realistic and avoid the pitfall of setting such a high goal that failure is inevitable. Then you're discouraged and you don't move forward.
“You feel defeated,” Greiner said, “which is worse off than where you were in December. A colleague of mine said his wife thinks about world peace and he thinks about cleaning up the garage. That's a really useful notion.”
Well, to me, this daily exercise class feels way more like achieving world peace.
I had spent most of 2013 talking about how tired and busy I was. Exercise was the kind of extra that I couldn't seem to fit into my life, and by day's end I had no energy or desire to get out the door. I mused to my husband that maybe I could take a class before our three sleeping children awoke. Get the day off to a good start. Get more energy.
He had listened too well, I discovered on Christmas.
“You can cancel it,” my husband quickly said when he saw my panic. He felt sheepish. He said I was fine the way I was.
But I had talked about doing this. I wanted to do it. Still, I'm now confronted with walking — or kickboxing? I don't even know what this class entails — the talk.
I sought some words of encouragement from my former coach, whose life has been an exercise in stamina and duration.
Roger Wright is 62 now. He is in his 32nd year at Marian. He is still teaching math. He is still coaching cross country. He is still winning awards — like the 40-year service award last summer from the Nebraska Coaches Association. His five kids are grown. He has five grandkids.
“You can't hold yourself back. People do amazing things,” Mr. Wright said. “But if you're Number 50 on the cross country team, I don't think your first goal should be Number One.”
I think I was Number 51 in high school. Cross country was a sport I joined because you didn't get cut. I feel more like Number 151 now.
Mr. Wright reminded me of the 300 Mile Club. That was his way to get the team to run over the summer before the fall season started. Not all of us made it, but we tried. You can't just run long distances cold. You've got to build up and stay in shape.
“It's kind of scary to think of 300 miles,” he said. “When you divide it over the days, 3½ miles (a day) doesn't make it sound quite so bad. It's very easy to talk yourself out of things.”
The hardest thing is getting out the door.
“Still use it,” Mr. Wright said Tuesday about that old expression.
Then he explained:
“Getting out the door. Actually getting started on your idea. Every time in coaching and teaching and any job, you run into areas where it would be easier to quit or just not do something. And I think you need the same philosophy to strive ahead.”
He gave an example. Before state one year, his star runner was injured. Marian wasn't expected to win. But it did.
“It was one of the best runs we had,” he said. “We won by over 50 points. If we would have stood around and worried about not having our lead runner ... you just have to go ahead.”
In other words, try. In other words, think like you'd run: one foot in front of the other. Don't stare too far down the road and be distracted.
“The trouble with resolutions,” he said, “is people think that the crowning glory, the moment at the end, is everything. They see no chance of making it to that so they quit. I think where you really gain the most is the journey.”
So can I do this, Mr. Wright? Can I get up early for 10 weeks?
“Let your first goal be that you make it every day the first week,” he said. “I hope to see a column in 10 weeks that tells me how the whole experience went. You can write about making Mount Everest.”
Column in 10 weeks? Everest? Yikes.
After we hung up, I started to hear another refrain from my running days. When we hit the Green Monster or any other terrible hill, Mr. Wright always hollered this:
“Go tough up those hills.”
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