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Running and I have a complicated history. For a long time, I assumed that my body just wasn’t made for it. My feet are flat; my knees are a little fragile. I’m fairly clumsy (hopefully in a generally charming way). I’ve never been particularly thin, and I overheat easily. So, yeah. Not destined to be a marathoner, you might assume.

Despite all of this, I’ve tried intermittently. I had a short stint with cross-country in high school, before being brutally sidelined by shin splints. Since then, I’ve dabbled in the jogging arts, often characterizing my preferred running style as “short distances, very slowly.”  After a serious knee injury in 2012, I found myself back at square one after months of mind-numbingly boring physical therapy. Whatever nominal progress I’d made as a runner in 28 years was gone.

But there’s something humbling about starting from zero. Because I was healing, I had to pay attention to my body. I had to slow down when it told me to slow down, quit when it told me to quit. My brain wasn’t really in charge anymore. And over time, I made it to about two miles of slow, steady jogging.

I was proud of myself. I decided that I’d reached the pinnacle of my running career, and I was okay with that.

Then Aliya came to visit.

My close friend and former roommate, Aliya is one of those people that comes back from a run all glowing and floaty, her impossibly long limbs gleaming with something that is more fairy dust than sweat. (I know, she’s annoying.) She’s also one of the most perceptive, lovely people on the planet. When she told me she was preparing for a half marathon, I told her I’d run with her for a bit, then go home and, like, eat bonbons or something while she continued with her serious training.

So we set off on the circular trail flanking my house. I was planning for one loop, my maximum (read: comfortable) distance. But Aliya started talking about her mental approach to running, which got my attention.

The two things she shared with me that day have changed my life as a runner. But they’re not just about running; they’re applicable to any effort toward improving your life or your circumstances. I want you to know them, too.

1. The initial stretch of any change is the hardest. Aliya told me that the first twenty minutes of running are the most challenging. It’s when your body is getting used to its new normal, trying to figure out why it’s moving so fast and why it has to process oxygen so quickly. It’s uncomfortable. But you’ll adjust. (I didn’t believe her, as I usually quit right at that twenty-minute mark, having had enough nonsense at that point. But as we stuck it out together, I saw firsthand that she was right.) After that tough stretch, my lungs got used to working harder and my legs found a rhythm.

2. If you’re doing something difficult, showing yourself some love is clutch. Aliya taught me a trick: whenever she’s running and a part of her gets tired or strained, she talks to that part of herself: “Legs, I love you. Relax.” Or “Lungs, I love you. Relax.” I started doing that as we rounded the first mile or so, when breathing felt pretty torturous: “Lungs, I love you. Relax.” Because Aliya was next to me and I didn’t care about looking like a goofball, I said the words out loud, like a mantra, as we ran around. Guess what? My lungs stopped stopped flipping out and found an equilibrium.

As we jogged up to the point where I was used to stopping, Aliya glanced mischievously at me and said, “Can you make it to the next turn up there?” I laughed and said “Maybe.” So we kept running together. And once we got to the bend, I found that I didn’t need to stop. We ended up running more than twice around the trail – and I actually challenged her to a sprint at the end of it! I didn’t even recognize myself. Her guidance and encouragement allowed me to challenge my perceived limits in an amazing way.

That brings us to Aliya’s final lesson – not something she told me, but something she taught me through action:

3. The company you keep is everything. Aliya saw what I thought I was capable of, but she knew that I was holding myself back. And so, she was able to call me out when I was selling myself short and support me gently through the tough parts. When you’re working on changing something about your life, the support you have from those around you can be the difference between progress and stagnation.

The stories we tell ourselves (I’m not a runner, or maybe I’m not good enough, or maybe I’ll never be able to [insert thing you secretly dream of doing]) are powerful and pervasive. Sometimes it takes a lot to change them – a lot of time, a lot of effort. But if you can make it through the beginning discomfort, love the parts of yourself that are struggling, and keep your best champions nearby, you’ve got an excellent shot at changing your story.

Take me, for example: I still have flat feet, fragile knees, and a good shot of clumsiness at any given time. And I may never decide to run a marathon. But, because I’ve learned to challenge myself, my complicated history with running has become much more simple: it’s a source of strength and freedom. And, as it turns out, my body was made to run. It just needed some perspective and support: I love you. Relax.

Mailande Moran is a musician, writer, and media consultant based in Durham, NC. She is a 2013 graduate of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where she served as a Fellow for the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship's Impact Investing Initiative and the Center on Leadership and Ethics. In the summer of 2012, she worked with Enterprise Community Loan Fund to analyze and communicate the impact of green affordable housing and transit-oriented development in Colorado. While pursuing her MBA, she consulted with the healthcare NGO Healing Fields in India, the microfinance start-up Seeds in Kenya, and the for-profit maternity hospital LifeSpring in India. Prior to Fuqua, she focused on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in strategy roles at Echoing Green and the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Mailande graduated from Duke University in 2006 with an A.B. in Art History. She is passionate about creating a safer, more equitable world. You can hear her music on Facebook (mailandemusic) and follow her other adventures on Twitter (@mailande). read more about
  • Annette Jones

    Wow wish I know this before I gave up jogging. This article applies to my life at this very moment. Profound and insightful!

  • Mailande

    @disqus_Hkq6zj3DDi:disqus Thanks so much! I’m so glad to hear that. But, for the record, I’ve definitely given up jogging… and found it again. :) Never too late to try again, switch it up & tackle another challenge, or rethink your approach! xo

  • Joye Speight

    Thanks so much! I read this before I went out and jogged 5 miles, I thought that I was only able to do 1-3 miles but I kept going. Great Article!

  • Mailande

    @joyespeight:disqusThat is AWESOME! You can also just imagine me running alongside you saying “Joye, I love you. Relax.” 😀 (I am up for providing this service in real life, BTW.) Proud of you, rockstar woman!

  • Patricia Mohr

    Great tips for getting over the hump! Thanks for sharing your story. #keepmoving

  • Mailande

    @patricia mohr Thank you, lady! And thanks for motivating me! 😀

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