You are an athlete. Yes, you. Even if you have never seen the inside of a gym or ran a mile without stopping. You are an athlete.
What? You think I am crazy for saying that? Well just hear me out.
I used to think I wasn’t an athlete either. In grade school I was the nerdy kid who wore huge glasses and sweaters with plastic dog bones for buttons (seriously, take a look!) and was always the last one chosen for a team in gym class.
My parents tried their best to develop my athletic skills; my dad signed me up for t-ball when I was 6 and all I did was chase around butterflies and pick flowers. When I attempted playing soccer I ended up just running circles around the field, the ball always seemed to allude me.
In high school I ran cross country for a year. I thought it sounded like a fun adventure: Running on trails through the woods, crossing creeks, clearing hay bales. Well, I was the slowest one on the team. I think I actually came in last place out of hundreds of runners from other schools in one meet.
But then something happened. I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder where some of the best trails in the world (or at least I think so) are located. I remember looking at those Flatirons jutting out of the foothills at angles and wondering how I could get up to them. And so I started running. Very slowly at first. Actually it was more like fast hiking with an occasional burst of energy that would be more of a “wog” than jog.
I began exploring those trails and day after day, mile after mile, I ran myself into shape.
I would head out from my dorm after class, with no agenda in mind, just to see where the next branch in the trail led. Over the course of that first semester I explored over 15 miles of trails and made a mental map of where each trail led. That first branch? It leads to Flatiron #1 where you have to scramble through huge boulder fields, some as large as trucks. Don’t take the fourth branch, it leads straight up to Flatiron #3 where you definitely need climbing equipment to continue to the top.
Those years living and running in Boulder were life changing for me. I ran because I wanted to. Because it felt amazing. I could run as slow or as fast as I wanted to, no training plans to follow or set mileage to accomplish for the day. I ran as far as my legs would carry me and sometimes a bit farther as I tended to get lost as I explored new trails.
I began to gain confidence in myself and my athletic abilities as I soon could make it up the steeper hills without walking and on the downhills my feet were quick and nimble. Like a mountain goat, I could navigate even the rockiest sections and the feeling of running free felt simply amazing.
I never knew that there was an athlete within me. I always thought that being “athletic” was a skill set that you were simply born with. That certain people were just endowed with these innate abilities that us mere mortals could never strive to achieve.
But then take the story of Michael Jordan. We all know how he was sent to the JV team in high school and through relentless perseverance, discipline and a ton of practice he was transformed from being “not good enough” to one of the best basketball players and athletes in history.
Or what about those people who take up running or weight lifting or triathlon after a lifetime of inactivity?
Sister Madonna is a Catholic nun who had never ran more than a mile in her life before the age of 48. Then she had a “calling” to start running and never looked back. Since she started, she has completed more than 300 triathlons, close to 50 Ironmans and is the world record holder for the oldest finisher of an Ironman at age 84. I did the Boulder half Ironman back in 2010 and she passed me on the course. Normally I would have been a little ashamed to be passed by a nearly 80 year old but I felt honored to have Sister Madonna show me up.
What about this guy? He is 81 years old and still going “strong”!
Did you know that the average age for completing an ultra run is between 40-45 years old? It is said that many people don’t see their peak athletically when it comes to endurance until their late 30’s and early 40’s. There are a myriad of examples of people who take up running without showing any past talent for the sport who end up excelling and even competing on an elite level well into their 40’s.
As a parent, I feel even more motivated to stay active. I want to set a good example for my kids but even more than that I want to take care of myself so I better take care of them. I mean, do you know how hard it is to keep up with two young boys?!? I need all the energy and endurance I can get to keep them under control.
I am part of a trails and ultra runners group on Facebook and I recently put out an informal survey to the group asking them if they have kids and if so if they completed their first ultra before or after kids. I was received with an overwhelming response. Out of the over 200 people who posted, over 95% of people completed their first ultra after having kids! There are many ways to read into this but here is what I took from it: Having kids is not easy. It is draining mentally and physically. But the same skills it takes to be a good parent and make it through those early years are the same skills that make an amazing athlete, especially an endurance athlete!
Kids shouldn’t be your excuse to lead a sedentary lifestyle, they should be your motivation and inspiration to get moving!
Look inside yourself. You have no idea what your potential is. You may not be the next Michael Jordan or elite ultrarunner but you can do much more than you think.
You can be amazing, you just have to get started.
Don’t make it formal and it definitely shouldn’t be boring. Find the closest park or hiking trail, no phones or clocks or timelines.
So what are you waiting for? Just get out there and see how far you can go, you will be surprised.
– Lauren Jones
Still a nerd and mom of 2 energetic boys