The Transformative Power Of "YES I CAN"

Whenever I go home to visit my parents and take off for a run, I always find myself flashing back to my first year as a new runner. Running that familiar route, the one I tried to run day after day after day after day, I remember the crocodile tears I shed whenever the final two miles home felt like a pilgrimage or how insecure I felt whenever I concocted judgemental narratives for the drivers who zoomed past me as I tried to survive my run.

I think about the giant, terrifying hill that felt like Mount Everest and I remember how much I doubted myself as I trained for my first marathon.

I tried to become a runner over a dozen times before I found myself just desperate enough to endure my way to a half marathon. I'd take off, find myself out of breath about two minutes in, walk a little, run a little more, and inevitably give up when that voice in the back of my head told me, "I can't do this".

My perception of what I think I'm capable of when it comes to fitness and athleticism has always been warped. My gut reaction is to tell myself "I can't do this" because that was always the case. From fad diets, running, to going to the gym, I never saw a goal through to completion. (To my credit, my goals were never about seeing what I was capable of or getting active to feel strong and empowered. I just wanted to be skinny because I thought that would make me feel desirable and beautiful. PLOT TWIST, health isn't a look. It's a lifestyle.) But why wouldn't I assume I'd inevitably fail or quit on a goal I didn't think I was capable of? My history speaks for itself!

But becoming a runner changed everything for me. It taught me that just because I had a history of quitting didn't mean I couldn't succeed in the future. So what if I'm not a very great athlete? Just because I'm not innately good at something doesn't mean that I can't work my ass off, get stronger, improve, and thoroughly enjoy myself along the way.   

One of my insurance policies, a habit I've developed to try to keep my heart safe whenever I'm working towards a goal I'm really invested in, is to limit myself and go into it believing, "I can't do this". (I think this is why I love "impossible" goals so much. It forces me to give 100% of myself when I'm working towards something I've convinced myself I'm not capable of. And if I don't try to make my impossible possible, "I can't do this" wins.)

While I was editing the first episode of the BQ or Bust take 4 (the video at the top of this piece), I started counting the number of times I mumble or scream, "I CAN'T" during or after my harder runs. I'd never noticed it before but you can see it on my face, I'm panicked. Exhausted. Terrified of the disappointment I'm convinced I'll have to face when I inevitably quit or embarrass myself. 

And it's not that I was using it as an excuse so that I didn't have to work hard. I thought I was giving 100%. I just didn't believe in myself.

That's when sports psychology wizard Dr. Bob came into the picture to blow my mind. We talked about how the second I tell myself "I can't", I choose to suffer instead of seeing what I'm capable of. Because the pain that comes with chasing impossible is unavoidable. It's part of the deal when you're pushing your limits. And I'm not just talking about the physical pain, I'm talking about how painful it is to come to terms with the fact that the only person doubting and telling you that you aren't good enough, is you.

Magic happens when you throw "I CAN'T DO THIS" out the window and give yourself permission to see what happens when you give your best effort.

Dr. Bob gave me that gift back in 2016 and it changed the way I approached both my goals and my life. It was like a light switch had gone off in my head and I could suddenly see myself and what I was capable of for the first time in my life. I still had doubts, don't get me wrong, trying to BQ scared the absolute shit out of me (still does), but in those moments when my instincts told me to pull back or give up, I found myself saying, "YES I CAN" with unwavering confidence. Not because I knew I could do it, but because I wasn't afraid of falling short or embarrassing myself anymore. 

And on race day, my fight towards "YES I CAN" became even clearer. It happened after I realized that I wasn't going to finish under 3 hours and 35 minutes and I started to question if I should keep fighting or find a tiny bit of comfort by pulling back. Either way, I was going to walk away with a huge PR. 

I was around the 22/24 mile mark and my legs felt like lead. I kept trying to get myself to run hard to the next turn but I didn't think I could run any faster. "YES I CAN. NO REGRETS NO EXCUSES. DON'T GIVE UP." I repeated it to myself over and over and over again.

Then, at mile 25, I saw Coach Josh, Gregg, and then to my surprise, Dr. Bob, and I found myself charging, smiling while I screamed to myself, "YES I CAN!". I ended up clocking a 7-minute 42-second mile during that final mile of the race. 

Something similar happened the next year during the London Marathon. After a runner named Sarah saved me from quitting at mile 17, she told me to take off and finish strong around mile 23. I flew through the final 3 miles with a smile on my face.

And crazy enough, THE SAME HAPPENED in 2015 when I broke 4 hours for the first time during the New York City Marathon. Without me even realizing it, something in my head switched from "I don't think I can do this" to "YES I CAN" around the half-way mark. I was able to get out of my own way, throw my fear of failing out the window, and believe that I could do it. AND I DID.

This week was week one of marathon training and even though I'm beyond excited to chase my Boston Marathon qualifying time again, things are different this time. I don't have the strong base I had the last three times. I'm coming off of an injury and the first four weeks of training are modified to make sure I don't re-injure my hamstring. I'm terrified I'm not going to make it to race day. And struggling through my run today, I couldn't help but remember the moments when I believed "YES I CAN" with every fiber of my being. Why is it so hard to believe it when everything feels impossible? 

It's hard. Really hard.

But I really, really want it.

As I was editing, I found a clip from BQ or Bust round one that smacked me right in my feels. I'm holding a clipboard with one of my favorite mantras written on it,

"It doesn't matter how badly you want something, it's about how hard you're willing to work for it." 

I want to make my impossible possible more than anything I've ever wanted in my whole life. And truthfully, that scares me. A lot. I've tried, fallen short, crashed and burned, and then didn't even make it to race day. But I'm ready to work my ass off for all the right reasons this time. And whatever happens from now until when I cross the starting line of the New York City Marathon come November 4th, my only goal is to train and race knowing, "YES I CAN". (OK and to make it to the finish line healthy!) 

YES I CAN

It feels impossible to let go of "I can't do this" when it's protected me for so long. But the reality is, it hasn't. It's only held me back from seeing what I'm truly capable of when I believe in myself, show up for myself, give my best effort, and find the fun every single step of the way.

I wish I would have known back when I first started running the freedom that comes with "YES I CAN". How transformative it can be to assume success instead of bracing for failure. Because regardless of what's happened in the past, anything is possible when you give yourself permission to succeed. We're already doing the physical work, now we just have to start working on what we say to ourselves.

Let's start with "YES I CAN".