The one place I have learned I can’t do it all alone
As a self-proclaimed textbook introvert, I have typically functioned under the assumption that alone is always better. I have the perfect part-time job in an office where I can go for days without seeing more than a single person. When I cook, unless you are cleaning up behind me, stay away! Because, as far as I’m concerned, there are always too many cooks in the kitchen. Every morning, I wake up at least an hour earlier than needed just so I can soak in every quiet moment possible. (Plus, coffee just tastes better when I’m alone.) I love traveling alone, eating alone, and most definitely shopping alone. My running routine, until recently, was no different.
But in April of 2015, somewhat of a miracle happened. In a moment of weakness, or perhaps it would be better said, in a moment of insane bravery, persuaded by a couple of runners I know, who convinced me that I really should consider doing so, I decided to join the local chapter of a nationwide moms running club, Moms Run This Town. At first, it was painless enough to get to know the gals on Facebook; I was active and friendly because it’s easy to be so alone, in front of a computer screen that displays a deliberately chosen profile picture of your best self. However, it took me weeks before I was able to muster up the courage to meet real women in the flesh and be willing to run in others’ company. Even though I said stuff like, “Yay! I can’t wait to meet you!” what my heart was really saying was, Please, I really don’t want to do this, I just want to keep running alone. But God knew my fear and my hesitation, because the first day I joined a group run, He pushed me right into the gracious hands of Jill. I was received with a lovely and welcoming smile, and my soul was immediately put at ease.
I’m so thankful for Jill and for her bravery, not just because she invited me in, but because she has done so for many before me and will continue to do so for many more. Her warmth helped usher me into trusting this group, and embracing it as a safe place. I was able to confidently start meeting more and more fascinating women of all kinds of ages, paces, walks of life, and personalities. I began to enjoy the benefits of not running alone; I was hearing similar stories, struggles, and triumphs from my newfound friends with whom I shared a common love.
Eventually, after weeks of running and training alongside them, building trust and camaraderie, it was easy for me to share with them about my recent string of very disappointing half-marathon races. After my third devastatingly unsuccessful attempt to meet my goal and break my half-marathon record, I received a sweet message from a great, and might I add, very speedy, runner friend (whom we fondly call frunners) telling me that she would love to run my next race with me and pace me to a successful finish. I was hesitant, because for us introverts, stretching ourselves (socially) multiplies our anxiety and insecurities significantly, and therefore, at least to us, there is much risk involved. Also, I was a little intimidated by the fact that she had more experience and was so much faster than I. I knew, however, that she had a great reputation for being an amazing cheerleader and encourager in our group; I understood that her intentions were sincere, so I agreed. But instead of enrolling into yet another race and paying yet another exuberant fee, I decided to run my own private, personal half-marathon. I didn’t mind not being able to cross a real finish line or get a medal; I just needed to know that all of the sweat and tears of the past five months were not in vain (although, really, any runner will tell you that there is no such thing as a wasted run). I had put hours and hours of work into pursuing what I believed to be a very realistic and attainable finish time; I needed to know that despite all of what I perceived as failures, I could, indeed, do it.
Stephanie and I had never actually met in person, so we set up a get-to-know-you run, which worked out perfectly because I was due for a challenging tempo run (typically, a 2-4 mile run done at a “comfortably hard,” continuous pace). It was great practice for her to learn how to put her running practices aside and worry only about what I needed. A uniquely wonderful act of selflessness, might I add.
Our tempo run was a great success: Stephanie and I got to know each other, meet in the middle of our common loves and beliefs, and discover our differences as well. We spoke of our running struggles, of what motivates us, discourages us, and of our personal mottos.
Two weeks after we met for that first time, race day arrived. I met Stephanie early that December morning. The weather could have not been more perfect. Cool and sunny. I was nervous, excited, and scared to no end.
We took off at perfect pace and kept it comfortably going.
But then we hit mile 10. Actually, mile 10 hit me.
Those last three miles are always the hardest. As usual, I started asking myself why on earth I had put myself through this agony again. I was getting very discouraged because it looked like (even with the best of luck) I was barely going to make my goal time; at three miles out, I rarely have the mental or physical energy to keep going strong. That day was no different, and soon the mental battle began. Why was I doing this for the fourth time in three months, if only to put myself through another crushing disappointment that would further prove that I was a lousy, weak runner? As every molecule in my body was begging me to stop, why wasn’t I? Tell me again, What was I going to gain from finishing this race?
I asked God again and again: What do I have to learn from this? Why am I here?
Some of that question was not answered till a few weeks later on a treadmill (you can read about it HERE). But this is what God spoke to me that day.
Susan, today, you can not do this alone. Sometimes, some things, you are just not meant to do alone.
It’s so easy for me to hide behind my introversion when I don’t want to expose my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In this case, I would have preferred to focus on and moan about my inadequacies and insecurities, thinking that I was the only one that falls apart at the end of a race, that wants to give up before it’s over–the only one that can’t finish strong, or the only one that fails to find joy in every step of the journey. And when I (falsely) think that I’m in this alone, I feel that I must deal with it alone.
But on that December day, God gave me Stephanie.
During the most difficult times of the race, Stephanie chanted “God is with you, mighty warrior,” my favorite Bible verse. This truth gave energy into each of my steps. She reminded me of who I was as a child of Christ and who I was as a runner: I had trained for this, and I was ready to complete this race even when my exhaustion was telling me otherwise.
God also gave me Robin. She was the only other person I’d told about my personal half-marathon, and without my knowledge, she had recruited a large handful of amazing ladies to come support me. At mile 11 I was surprised by a cheering group of frunners! They waited with posters and water at hand, knowing that at that specific place I would need the most encouragement. Some of them I didn’t even know! And yet there they were, just for me! Just the sight of them brought a new bounce in my step and a new reason to endure.
At mile 12, I wanted to quit again, but Stephanie would not let me give up. I asked her to run in front of me for the rest of the race; I needed a guide, a point of focus, something, someone to “pull” me along. The closer we got to the “finish line,” the more she had to cheer me on. “You can do this, Susan,” she said. “You are strong; you are a mighty warrior.” She kept turning around and saying, “We are almost there, Susan! You are doing this! You can’t give up now.”
I didn’t give up. I kept my eyes on her. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. And I made my goal time, with 22 seconds to spare!
I learned that day that it is important to have Stephanies in our lives. We need people that will run alongside us, people who know us, know our weaknesses, our fears, what motivates us and keeps us going. We need Stephanies to remind us of who we are and what we believe in; we need them to tell us that we are strong and capable. Not only that, but we need to make space in our lives to allow others to join us even during (or especially during) those times that we think we can, or should, do it on our own.
Sometimes I have to welcome my chatty coworkers into my quiet office to help me finish a project I’m running behind on. Sometimes I have to ask Mike (or whoever is available) to help me in the kitchen when I’m tired or overwhelmed. Sometimes I need to be (and quite enjoy) drinking coffee on the back porch with my son.
I also need to allow others to enter my space and see my vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and breathe life and truth into my weary soul. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask people for help. It’s okay to let them know that I don’t want to finish, that I want to give up, and that, if they don’t step in and convince me otherwise, I will.
Are you an introvert? I challenge you today to find a Stephanie in your life, someone that you can trust with your vulnerabilities and insecurities. Someone that will speak truth and life into your steps. Share your stories with others, because you never know, sometimes loving people that “get you” will bring their friends to cheer you along, give you aid, and celebrate with you in your successes.
Be a Stephanie, too. Listen, and offer your kindness and support in a way that will bring life and perseverance into someone’s weary, tired soul. And when she wants to quit, ask her what she needs most. Silence? Words of encouragement? A guide to lead her to the finish line, or a friend to push her there?
Don’t ever forget that some things in life we are just not meant to do alone.