On Running and Fear and the Big, Bad, Horrible Things

April 17, 2013


On Monday evening, I sat down at my computer. I started reading news stories about the Boston Marathon bombing. And I cried.

Then I did something I’ve been meaning to do ever since I returned to the States this summer. Something I came close to doing a few times, but then I kept chickening out.

I signed up for a race – a 10K in August to benefit Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

This will be my first race since the Great Wall 10K in China. And my first race in the States.

Even though I ran quite a few races in Asia, I’ve always been really intimidated about running a race here in the States.

After all, being the big, fat, slow, white girl was fine in Asia. A lot of people in Asia just kind of expect you to be a big, fat, slow white girl if you’re from America.

What can I say?

I was just living up to their expectations.

But here?

People around here probably know that not all white girls run like they’re stuck in five feet of Jello. Really, really thick Jello. The kind that’s probably made out of concrete.

And I’ve let fear – the fear that I’m going to be too slow and too self conscious and too surrounded by people in Spandex who actually know what they’re doing– stop me from signing up for a race.

But, you know what, guys?

Fear can go suck it.

And, cancer can go suck it, too.

Growing up, I’d always dreaded doing anything remotely athletic and competitive.

I hated gym class.

I couldn’t kick balls or jump ropes. I couldn’t balance on the balance beam. And the best I could manage to do on the climbing rope was to just kind of hang off the end like a bloated piñata until it became painful for everyone to watch and the gym teacher would take pity on me and let me sit down.

I did join the girl’s lacrosse team in high school. But that was only because it was the only sports team that didn’t require try-outs.

That and the plaid skirts. I was really into the plaid skirts.

I'm the terribly red-faced girl sitting on my coach's lap. I was obviously there for the comic relief.

I’m the red-faced girl, making goofy facial expressions & sitting on my coach’s lap. Because what I lacked in athleticism, I made up for in social graces. Obviously.

I spent the majority of my time on the bench, cheering on my team or faking cramps to get out of actually having to play in a game.

And, my senior year, when the team started requiring try-outs, I didn’t even bother showing up to try out. I told myself I was too busy doing important senior year things. Like reading historical fiction and fake-singing in chorus and having crushes on boys I would never talk to.

I didn’t start running until about ten years ago – and I only started doing it then because it was the only form of exercise I could think of that didn’t require fancy stuff like gym equipment and hand-eye coordination.

And then I moved to Japan and started hanging out with runner people.

You know how it is.

You start hanging out with a bunch of runner people. And they somehow convince you that you’re runner people, too. They coerce you into signing up for a race with promises of free t-shirts. And the next thing you know, you’re standing in a parking lot holding a box of freeze-dried fish you just “won” at your first 5K.


So this happened.

(Don’t be too impressed, guys. Everyone “won” fish at that race.)

If you’d told me back in high school that I would one day run a full marathon, I never would have believed you.

In fact, I can hardly believe you now.

I did a what?

Are you sure about that?

It's true! I ran a full marathon! I even have the grainy cell phone photos of runners in monkey costumes to prove it!

It’s true! I ran a full marathon! I even have the grainy cell phone photos of runners in monkey costumes to prove it!

Even now I still don’t consider myself a runner. Not like some people are runners.

But doing races has never been about running for me.

Doing races has been about defying.

It was about defying every single bad memory of gym class.

It was about defying the dubious looks of my Japanese colleagues and students when I told them I was planning to run a 5K. Then a 10K. Then a half-marathon. Then a full marathon.

It was about defying my mother who would announce I was going to die every time I would announce I was signing up for another race.

It was about defying that little voice in my head. The voice that was always telling me, “You can’t do this. You’re not one of those people. You’re not a runner. You’re too fat. You’re too slow. Listen to your mother — you are going to die! Listen to me! Just give up and go back to your couch already.”

And I’d like to think that running this race in August will be my teeny tiny way of defying the Big, Bad, Horrible Thing that happened in Boston on Monday.

And all the Big, Bad, Horrible Things that happen in the world everyday.

The Big, Bad, Horrible Things that cause us to fear and hate and distrust each other.

The Big, Bad, Horrible Things that make us believe those little voices in our heads – the ones that are telling us that it’s all too scary and we should just give up and go back to our couches already.

Because, you know, what, guys?

Those Big, Bad, Horrible Things?

They can go suck it, too.

Do you run races? How did you get your start? Or have you ever wanted to run a race, but haven’t yet? What’s stopping you? (And if you want me to be your pushy runner person friend who coerces you into signing up for a race with promises of free t-shirts, I totally will. Trust me on this.)
P.S. So now that I’ve stopped bugging you about voting for me for the Bloggies, I can start bugging you about donating to my race fundraising, right? Because, uh, I kind of made this ridiculous goal of raising $500 for cancer research. But if anybody can help me reach a ridiculous goal, it’s you guys, amirite or AMIRITE? Let’s totally make this happen, okay?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On April 17, 2013 at 9:37 am Priya said:

    This is awesome, Sally! Love what you’re doing.
    It amazes me how much the world is filled with so much hatred. But it’s also filled with courage and hope. And, as you said, fear can go suck it.
    PS: I hated PE class in school. I was only required to take the first two yrs in HS and the second year I used “religion” as an excuse to not swim ( because my religion states that I cannot swim with boys- the first year was all girls and the second was coed). It’s ok though b/c half the girls had a “doctors” note to get them out of swimming.
    PPS: I still don’t know how to swim.
    Priya recently posted..What To Do When You’re In-Between

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:25 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Priya. And thanks for the donation!
      I was so jealous of all those girls who got out of swimming class. I had to suffer through every single swimming class in high school and I was the worst swimmer ever. The only time I ever got a doctor’s note to get out of gym class, we were doing Ultimate Frisbee that week. Geez.
      But, hey, at least I kind of know how to swim now. But as for Ultimate Frisbee? It remains a mystery to this day.
      P.S. You should totally learn how to swim. It’s kind of important. AND you could write a blog post about it!

  2. On April 17, 2013 at 11:37 am Carmel said:

    I started running 9 years ago when I got out of a bad relationship. I had always been athletic, but never really good at running. I read an article about Chi Running, discovered I had been breathing wrong all this time (not deep enough), and just started. I didn’t question whether or not I could, I just did it because…well, what else was there to do? Besides sit around and be miserable, of course.

    I have done 3 half-marathons, a bunch of 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, and even a smattering of 15Ks. ZERO ambition to do a full (mostly because the time training takes). I’m glad I’m a runner now. It will always be challenging to me, but can be so rewarding.

    I think it’s great you got over it. My first half marathon turned into a complete disaster in a last few miles. In the last mile when I started getting REALLY upset and alternating between hyperventilating and crying, I had one lady, who was easily in her 40s or 50s, about a size 18 (in spandex!), come by, pat my back and say, “you’re almost there. Keep it up.” and trot away. She wasn’t in the best shape, but she kept moving along at her clip and finished the race before me! So, anyone can do it. Even here.

    And, suck it cancer!
    Carmel recently posted..Easter Rising

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:20 pm Sally said:

      Omigod, my last half marathon was a total disaster too. It was in Japan right before I did my marathon, so I was trained but not exactly ready. I thought I had signed up for a 10K and not the half-marathon, so I had shown up to the race without my little water bottle hip-pack thinking I wouldn’t need it as I was only doing a 10K. It was an unseasonably hot October day and all the drink stations had run out of water before I got to them. I got so dehydrated I had to beg some old guy for his bottle of tea. It was awful.

  3. On April 17, 2013 at 11:54 am Daniel McBane said:

    Reading this I began to think to myself, “If she can do it, well, I’m still not gonna…” Unlike you, I did not catch some brain-wasting disease while in Asia that suddenly made me forget all the inventions that make running unnecessary and undesirable (cars, buses, sofas, etc). That said, I also did not return from Asia with a box of dried fish. So there’s that.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Funny Bad English on a Japanese Notebook

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm Sally said:

      Well, the box of dried fish did not return with me. When I returned from the race, I pawned it off on some Japanese colleague who was overjoyed and could totally not understand why I would want to get rid of a perfectly fine box of dried fish.

  4. On April 17, 2013 at 11:57 am Don said:

    Glad you are still running. The check in in the mail…or interwebs actually. Good luck and have fun.

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm Sally said:

      Well, not exactly “still.” I haven’t really run regularly since the summer — but I guess it’s time to change that.
      And THANK YOU SO MUCH for the donation. It’s much appreciated. And it’s totally the kick in the pants I need to DO THIS THING.
      Do you think there’s going to be t-shirts? There’d better be t-shirts!

  5. On April 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm Sarah somewhere said:

    Awesome post! I did a 14K a few years back, which was the beginning and the end of my running career. Next, I’m going to jump out of a plane because the very thought of it makes me want to hide under my bed and never come out. I’m with you, fear of races, planes and bombs can totally go suck it.
    Sarah somewhere recently posted..Keeping Kids In School and Myself Sane

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm Sally said:

      What? You’re jumping out of a plane? Yeah, that would totally make me hide forever. Whoa. I probably would never jump out of a plane unless that plane was on fire… and someone was pushing me… and there was the guarantee that I would survive and be greeted by cookies when I finally reached land.

  6. On April 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm Katie said:

    Love this. I wrote a post late last night along the same lines. I never saw myself as a runner or a marathoner and still feel weird calling myself either – even though I’ve finished 5 marathons now. Shortly after I finished my first, I was chatting on Facebook with a guy I went to high school with and he commented that he would never have pegged me as someone who’d run a marathon – and I was just like, “what the hell is that supposed to mean??”

    By the way, the Great Wall Marathon is at he top of my bucket list. I may die but I am trying to convince myself it will be well worth it.
    Katie recently posted..Why Do I Run?

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm Sally said:

      5 MARATHONS? Holy moley, lady! That’s amazing! You are totally a runner-marathoner-amaze-balls! And that stupid high school guy can go suck it too! (Of course, if he’s your friend, I don’t mean this in a bad way. Just in a “go suck it and have a good day” kind of way).
      And, yes, you should totally do the Great Wall Marathon. In fact, I kind of want to go back and do it again — except I’d do the half-marathon the next time. The worst part was the 4K you spend on the Wall; the rest is just through villages and totally do-able. I don’t think I could survive the full marathon as it goes through the Wall part twice, while the half and the 10K only do the Wall part once.

  7. On April 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm Sine said:

    Wonderful, to have such a good thing come out of a bad thing. It’s one of those things of expat life, isn’t it, that we sign up and do the craziest things, but when we’re back “home” we have all these reasons why we can’t. Maybe we just need to view living back at home as another exotic expat assignment…
    Sine recently posted..The Expat Worshipper, Part Two (Or: A Christian Owned Business)

    • On April 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm Sally said:

      Totally! I’m kind of surprised at all the things I don’t do here or feel self-conscious about doing here that I would have had no problem doing overseas. It’s time for that to stop. Time to just start living like I don’t care if everyone stares! After all, I should be used to the staring already, right?

  8. On April 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm Kaleena's Kaleidoscope said:

    That’s fantastic! A great way to create some positivity out of something horrible. I was never a runner, and then I did the same as you and started signing up for races. I ran a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon! Wow, look at me go! I was on my way to a full marathon! Then I injured my knee, and I’ve never been able to run since. Sorry, it’s not a very inspiring story. But I’m still a fantastic power walker! 😉 Good luck on your race!
    Kaleena’s Kaleidoscope recently posted..When Tragedy Strikes at Home: An Expat’s Point of View

  9. On April 17, 2013 at 10:45 pm Ross said:

    Good for you! Thanks for this wonderful, inspirational post.
    Ross recently posted..Bucket Lists

  10. On April 18, 2013 at 3:55 am Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion said:

    Congrats on taking the leap Sally! I am definitely one of those who was never athletic when growing up!

    I mean I found the Girl Guides taxing and then when I took the plunge and finally signed up for Women’s Soccer in school – I loved my teammates but I spent half my time praying the coach wouldn’t put me in during a game – yes, I was that bad!

    To make matters worse, my dad’s a soccer player! Clearly I take after my foodie mom!

    Anyway, I’m so inspired by what you’re doing! IT TAKES COURAGE! I’m rooting for you! (you probably don’t need it but support all the way from Spore!)
    Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion recently posted..Food Pilgrimage: The magical little cafe in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm Sally said:

      I definitely need all the support I can get, Sarah. It’s been MONTHS since I’ve run regularly. So just knowing I have people cheering me on is giving me inspiration to hit the road again and start training!

  11. On April 18, 2013 at 7:57 am Naomi said:

    Good bloody on you!! Horrible nasty things that happen need brave people to stand up and say no, in whatever way gives meaning to you. I’m not a racer, but I love running for the exercise, so I totally get what you’re dong. You go girl!!
    Naomi recently posted..A Mojito with my name on it

  12. On April 18, 2013 at 9:33 am Deedee said:

    I’ve never been a runner, but I was, at one time, an avid cyclist. I rode in many races and rides, the pinnacle of which was the 500-mile AIDS Ride in 2000. After I moved back to Buffalo I got fat and lazy, and I stopped riding.

    That laziness stops with this post. Right now. As soon as I am healed from my surgery, I’m getting on my bike, and I’m riding. Even if it’s just a ride around the block, I have to start somewhere.

    You have inspired me! Thank you, and…YOU GO, UNBRAVE GIRL!!!!
    Deedee recently posted..Tilting Horizons, Bariatric Humor, and Centipedes in the House

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm Sally said:

      I’ll join you, lady! One of my big goals for returning to the States was to start cycling again more seriously. I did dust off my bike and take it for one long ride last summer, but not much more than that. I’ve been itching to get it back on the road, so I’d love to have a biking partner!

  13. On April 18, 2013 at 10:08 am Sid said:

    I ran my first marathon last year. Unfortunately I didn’t complete it in under 5 hours, so I couldn’t qualify for the 2 Oceans Ultra. But I’m gonna give it another go. I HAVE TO!
    Sid recently posted..Crazy/beautiful – Doopmaal

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm Sally said:

      Go for it! It definitely took me over 5 hours to complete my marathon — but I came in just in time to qualify for my free t-shirt. So that’s all that mattered to me!

  14. On April 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm Warrior of the Pen said:

    Dear Sally,
    I think it is awesome that you signed up for a race and that you want to raise money for cancer research. As a cancer patient I would like to thank you for this from the bottom of my heart. Thank you!!!!
    P.S. If you need a song list for your race, let me know, I could provide some suggestions.

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm Sally said:

      Ooo, yes, song lists are always wanted! I’ve been needing to update my running mix for ages.
      And so glad I could do this little thing to help kick cancer’s butt!

  15. On April 19, 2013 at 3:16 am AlaiaLeighland (@alaial) said:

    Hi… I am a Marathon walker and I am so inspired by your post.. I would like to hear more about doing events in Asia I will be living in Thailand and i plan to do the Chaing Mai 10 k in December…But the Great wall is kinda on my Bucket list… Can you tell moee about it.. Check your facebook messages … I send u a PM…
    So excited for you on this your first US Run!

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm Sally said:

      The Great Wall 10K was definitely a challenge, but totally worth it! They’ve changed the course a bit this year, I think. I don’t think there’s still the option of the 10K anymore. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. Just let me know!

  16. On April 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    My goal is to run a 1/2 marathon before the end of the year.

  17. On April 20, 2013 at 11:09 am Kristin of Be My Travel Muse said:

    Since you didn’t die and they didn’t build you into the Great Wall like in the olden days last time, I feel good about your chances this time around.

    • On April 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm Sally said:

      Thank you! I imagine this 10K will be a lot easier than my last 10K as I doubt there will be many massive, ancient walls that I will need to climb on the race course. But you never know!

  18. On April 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm Chill Educational Travel said:

    Sally you are totally selling yourself short, I think it is amazing that you ran races abroad! Not many people can say that. Keep it up!

    • On April 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm Sally said:

      I don’t think I’m selling myself short at all. I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments. As I said, I never thought of myself as a runner and I never thought I would ever do a race, so I’m proud of myself for doing the races I’ve done — even if I didn’t run super fast or beat a whole bunch of people.
      But I do still feel self-conscious about my running despite all the races I’ve done — this is not something that I’m proud of, it’s just something that’s true. I suspect it’s something that’s true for many people. That’s why I wrote about it — I want other people who maybe think that they’re not capable of running a race to see that if I can do it, they can too!

  19. On April 22, 2013 at 6:10 am Paul Farrugia said:

    Great post.
    I am in London and the response from the Londoners at yesterday’s marathon was amazing. It was a record turnout and I think the reason being was to say to the big bad horrible things that they can go and suck too! It will not stop us from living the life we want.
    Paul Farrugia recently posted..A guide to Yangon

  20. On April 24, 2013 at 7:42 am eemusings said:

    This is great, way to go!

    I’ve run a couple of 10ks and while I think I could manage a half and would love to say I’ve run a full marathon, truth is, I don’t really want to. I don’t ENJOY running long distances.
    eemusings recently posted..Three takeaway foods you can make at home

    • On April 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm Sally said:

      Well, I don’t know if anyone actually ENJOYS running 26 miles. I know I didn’t! I enjoyed having done it — but not until about a week later when I could finally climb stairs again. (The first couple days afterwards though… whoa… that was bad.)

  21. On April 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm Montecristo Travels (Sonja) said:

    See, I am athletic … but NOT a runner. I was. In high school I ran both cross-country and track and field and then had a horrible accident (hurdle race) and well that … was the end of that. But YOU GO GIRL!!! You do what you need to do. You don’t have to be a “runner” to run. You just … run. FOR. YOU. Not to be a part of that click. Not for any reason other than you want to for you.
    Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Trying is Not Failing with Honour

  22. On April 28, 2013 at 12:56 am cosmoHallitan said:

    What a great tribute to the Boston victims! We were in Yunnan when this happened and didn’t find out about it until a few days later. I’m still in shock.

    I ran the JP Morgan 5K every year I lived in Manhattan, but haven’t run a race since. I thought about signing up for a 10K in Shanghai last month but was turned off by the thought of choking on pollution. But we’ll be back in DC in the fall and you’ve inspired me to sign up for one of the many races or walks there.
    cosmoHallitan recently posted..Sumtseling Tibetan Monastery, Shangri-la

    • On May 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm Sally said:

      Yeah, I looked into doing races in China and they all seemed a bit too scary — according to some of the reviews online, sometimes they don’t even shut down the roads to traffic. Can you imagine running a 10K in Shanghai traffic? NO THANKS.

  23. On June 15, 2013 at 2:10 am Ceri said:

    Every way you described your gym class at school could have been used to describe mine too. And I seriously admire you for being able to run those races, girl. I’ve literally told people that I “know of a girl who ran the Great Wall of China” after you did that because I’m definitely not a runner and what you’re able to do is incredible. I know you’re going to do well – for yourself and for Boston – in August too.
    Ceri recently posted..NY Bucket List: #1 – Visit Central Park


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