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Starting where I am

Monday, November 15, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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This is the third in a series of lessons I’ve learned while living lately. I first learned this lesson a decade ago, as a runner.

I learned that if I wanted to run a marathon, I had to start from what I could already run and build slowly and steadily from there.

I learned that trying to run as fast as the young sprites at my running club just resulted in a red face and pulled muscles. It was better to admit my true fitness level and join the silver foxes, a group of retired men who ran at something closer to my pace.

I learned to start where I was, and build from there.

And it worked. I came first in the last 10k road race I ran before I moved to Afghanistan. Granted, the national 10k finals were taking place that day so all the fast runners were there instead of in the local run which I won. But still. I was running pretty well for a woman only one year off moving into the master’s age group.

I took this lesson with me into my practice of yoga.

When I watched enviously as my teachers folded over into comfortable looking deep forward bends while I struggled to even sit up straight, I made peace with my tight hamstrings (testament to all those years of running, as it turned out) and started where I was.

The same thing showed up as I began the long, slow slog of writing my book.

Early drafts were so horrible compared to the work of the writers I admire most, that I was tempted to bin the whole project.

Then I remembered those early runs. And those first yoga classes. And I remembered to start where I was, write what I could, and build from there.

It’s a practice I still bring to my manuscript and my yoga mat every day.

In a lovely symmetry, this lesson has returned to me this month as I return to running for the first time in nearly five years.

When I decided it was time to strap my running shoes back on, it took all the humility I could muster to admit that I am not actually fit enough to head straight out my door on a casual 10k jog.

I found it hard to get past my idea of myself as that woman who came first in a 10k road race. That’s the runner I find myself wanting to still be. But the beautiful truth of the matter is that I am no longer that woman.

Now I’m a kinder, slower, softer, older and, dare I say it, even wiser woman. And I am certainly a slower runner.

It took a big old dose of my own medicine, the advice I give all my yoga students over and over again, to get me to start slowly. But I did. I gently sent my pride to take a long, hot bath. I shelved ideas of the runner I ‘should’ be, and I made friends with the runner I actually am.

I started where I am. And where I am is on week three of the couch to 5k program. It’s revealing, how reluctant I was to admit that. But beneath the residue of the false pride of the runner I once was, lies the simple truth is that I’m loving running again. I’m enjoying each walk/run because they are actually within my current level of fitness.

There is a great joy in starting where you are because it means that you are only asking yourself to do what you are already equipped to do.

Start where you are. Start with what you already have. Build from there. Build with joy.


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17 Responses to "Starting where I am"

  1. Emmanuelle says:

    I hear you on that. Running is a new discovery for me. I started running 3 months ago, after years of hating it, just because I wanted to give it a try.
    I used the c25k app too, starting from where I was, which means virtually nowhere, and built it up from here. I know this doesn’t sound hard for a seasoned runner, but I am so proud to be able to run for 30 minutes straight and feel great.

    I guess this is a valuable lesson that can be applied anywhere, thanks for reminding us šŸ™‚

  2. Tor says:

    Replace ‘running’ with ‘cycling’ and this post is aimed at me! I used to be a massive cyclist, but after selling my beloved racer I haven’t ridden for over four years. However, I finally bought a new bike last week and expected to be able to immediately head out for a long, hilly ride as my fitter, younger self used to do regularly. I was so wrong. Initially I beat myself up for not being as fit as I used to be, but after a few stern words with myself I just relaxed into the ride and accepted the new older, slower (and yes, wiser) cyclist I’ve become!

    Iā€™m even going to buy some retro bike accessories and (shock horror) panniers just to prove to myself that Iā€™m no longer the competitive cyclist of old who obsessed about having a lightweight bike and cycling at a certain RPM. It’s all about style now… šŸ™‚

  3. DareToBecome says:

    A friend sent me a link to your post. This is just beautiful and it is a message I’ve been needing to remind myself of lately.

  4. Lindsey says:

    I love this. It is so hard for me to remember too, and I’m always impatient when my own body or mind doesn’t obey and fit right into what I hoped/imagined would be. But, as you say, the rushing doesn’t actually achieve anything, and just gets in our own way. So today, I sit down again to face the manuscript. And head out for the slow jog. Thanks for reminding me of what matters. xox

  5. Rachel says:

    I needed to read this today, as I have been torturing myself for not being further along in life than I am in so many ways. may new mantra…Build from here. Build with joy.
    Thank you!!!

  6. Emily Perry says:

    yes yes and yes! starting where you are is beautiful, and kind of hard! <3

  7. A. Mancuso says:

    This was beautiful to read, and such an important lesson. I so often expect myself to be perfect on first try, and this lesson is one I’m still working on. šŸ™‚

  8. Jasmine Lamb says:

    Marianne, What I love is that this post not only expresses the importance of accepting where we are and building from there–as the only way to actually build something inside and outside of us, but also that this is the way to joy. Or this is joy. You write, “the simple truth is that Iā€™m loving running again.”

    When we can be where we are and let go of the image of where we should be, our hearts open to the moment at hand.

    This morning (it is now actually afternoon) I’ve not gotten out of bed, tired and wiped out from a very active week. A part of me wants to be somewhere else, wants to get so much done, wants to work on my blog and other business, but then a deeper part of me knows that unless I’m willing to be here in this moment with what I need, be present to where I am, I won’t be anywhere at all. I’ll be lost.

    In the past three days I stacked two cords of wood. Last year if I stacked wood for more than half an hour I’d hardly be able to get out of bed the next day! So even if I need to take it slow today, the momentum is building within.


  9. Anna says:

    In 14 weeks I started where I was (the beginning) and went from zero to the Auckland 1/2 marathon. In doing so I really started to enjoy running – for myself and for the pleasure it gives me, not for competing, or trying to come first, but for doing the best that I can and enjoying myself while doing it. As the mass of people running at the same slow pace as me were crossing the Harbour bridge there was more joking, laughs and singing than you could imagine. At 16k into a 21k run I was surrounded by joy and people having fun. Before I’d reached the finish line I’d decided to do it again next year.

  10. Thanks for this reminder to start where you are and build with joy. Very timely šŸ™‚

  11. Wendie says:

    So exciting to hear about your start again with running and I remember that 10k race we did together many years ago šŸ™‚

    This is so appropriate for me to read on so many levels right now as you know, being super fit and now the complete opposite after having a baby I need to remind myself to start where I am and not beat myself up for not achieving my expectations of where I ‘should’ be based on where I was before.

    Still it is hard to do for me if I am honest, but as always I will do my best and be kind to myself in the process.


  12. Anne-Marie says:

    So wise. I am learning this lesson, and what I am discovering is that if I start from where I am I’m much happier. Because I don’t have all these expectations on myself.

    By the way, I have banned the words “should” and “shouldn’t” from my vocabulary. They are what an old lecturer of mine called clobber words – a great expression.

    Thanks for your wonderful words, as always. xx

  13. A beautiful post Marianne, thank you. Sometimes it can be hard to start because you either think you should be starting from a different place, or wish that you were, or both. There is a great deal of wisdom in your simple message of start where you are. Tx

  14. penny says:

    Thank you for writing this, Marianne. It really resonates with me as I’ve just started teaching yoga and I feel like I should be a great teacher right off the bat. (Or even a good one!) I’m trying and putting a lot of pressure on myself. But I like your reminder to build from where I am. Thank you!

  15. I started running in May and have worked my way up to 7 kilometres – slowly but surely. I’ve never been a runner before (always a cyclist, but not a particularly fit one), so it’s been a learning curve for me.

  16. Abbie says:

    SO true – I love it! I especially hear you on the running šŸ™‚

  17. maggie doyne says:

    ohhh i loved every sentence in this. thanks for the reminder.

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