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Matt Kinnaman

“You’re Ready Now!”

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I don’t know why, but something about running always seemed to attract me. I wonder why. My dad started running during the nascent jogging craze in the 70’s, and his infectious enthusiasm for running intrigued me and made me wonder if I could be a runner, too. I also wanted to keep up with my older brother, a naturally great athlete. I knew I could not out-compete him, but maybe he and my dad would let me run alongside them, or they’d wait for me while I tried.

So I tried, and I found something that clicked with me. I found out that even though I didn’t have natural speed, I had the ability to settle into a jog and find a steady rhythm. Looking back, I realize now that running allowed me to focus and find serenity. I could not articulate it that way back then, but I felt it.

Soon, I decided to run on my early morning paper route instead of riding my bike. I started jogging home from school instead of taking the bus like everybody else. I wasn’t fast. I didn’t really know anything about competitive running. I just found enjoyment in jogging along the road.

For years, that’s the way it was. I ran (jogged) a few times a week. In college, I ran my first local 5K and did pretty well, with a sub-20:00 minute time. I didn’t know anything about training for speed or performance. One really cold, windy winter day, I went to the outdoor track and tried to run 800 meters in under 2 minutes 30 seconds, figuring if I worked my way up to doing that twice in a row, I’d run a sub-5:00 minute mile. I did the 800 in 2:28 and then pretty much forgot about it.

My brother and I sometimes tried to complete a 2-mile loop from our house in under twelve minutes, and on a good day, we could both do it. (Maybe we measured it a little short.) A few years later, I ran a few times with a guy who seemed to run at about the same pace I liked, and we’d try to finish the last mile of our 3-4 mile runs in about 5:30, which turned out to be doable. The funny thing to me, now, is that I really had no clue if those times were good or not. They just seemed to be reasonable targets to shoot for. (It turns out that they’re decent times, but not really remarkable. Not bad for local competitions, but not the stuff of Olympic dreams, not even close.)

And that didn’t really matter anyway because I really only enjoyed running for the simplicity and easy availability of it. Plus, for the still-unarticulated way it made me feel, focused and serene, and “in the moment.” Competing in races didn’t catch my interest, other than perhaps an annual local 5K followed by a cook-out if we happened to get a group of us together just for fun.

Years went by. I continued jogging a few times a week. I didn’t pay attention to my times. I made my way through various chapters of adulthood and was soon into my 40s. I ran a 5K once or twice a year. I noticed a pattern. The same people in and around my age group consistently beat me. And at the conclusion of one of these 5Ks I asked one of the guys who consistently beat me, “How do you get faster.”

“Do you go to the track?” he asked me. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “What do you mean, do I go to the track?”

He explained to me that jogging slowly makes you good at jogging slowly. To get faster, you have to do “intervals” or “repeats” at the track, at faster paces, with recovery jogs in between. And with repetition, week by week, this training method, combined with an increased overall weekly mileage volume, leads to faster race performances.

I knew another guy who was part of a Wednesday running group that did intervals at a high school track nearby, and he encouraged me to show up. I did. I felt nervous. But I simply followed along and found that it worked. Kind of like way back when I pushed myself in those early runs in my college and post-college days. Something clicked again, like it did the first times I ran with my dad and brothers. But now, what clicked into place was a new gear, a sense that maybe I could compete and push myself farther and faster.

I soon became a regular with the Wednesday track group. They encouraged me. We’d do six 800-meter repeats at a 6-minute mile pace, with 400-meter recoveries in between each 800. Again, not a remarkable or super fast pace, but respectable for our age group, and for me, a newcomer to this training approach, a really good challenge. I liked it. I started running more, and more seriously.

On one of my first Wednesdays at the track, a veteran runner asked me what my weekly mileage was.
“Twelve to fifteen miles,” I said.

“That’s gonna need to change,” was his response.

He was right. Doing 800-meter repeats alone wouldn’t cut it. I soon ramped up my weekly mileage to about 30 miles a week. I started attempting 7-mile runs and then 8 miles. I felt my strength and endurance increase. One weekend day, I attempted my first legit “long run” and broke into double digits. It turned out to be a twelve-miler, best I remember. The more I ran, the more I responded positively. And not just physically and physiologically. I responded mentally. My attitude grew more positive. I felt more optimistic. I started dreaming a little bigger in life.

But, strangely, in my running, for all its improvement, l felt content to call it all “good enough.” I felt glad about my progress and didn’t really aspire to push myself further.

One day at the track, one of the guys, Bob, mentioned he was training for a half-marathon. This kind of blew my mind. It sounded epic. A half marathon! I could handle a 5K. My speed was increasing. My mileage volume ramped up consistently. I ran a 10K. But, a half marathon? That sounded unapproachable to me.

I saw Karen, one of the other runners in the group, and I said something about Bob training for a half marathon and said someday I might try that “when I was ready,” meaning when I worked my way up to that level of running strength and ability. Or maybe, meaning I didn’t want to push myself beyond my perceived limits or current level of improvement.

Karen’s reply caught me by surprise, and it reverberates still, all these years later. I call it to mind when facing a challenge or feeling that the obstacles in front of me are too big to overcome.

“You’re ready now!” That’s all Karen said.

Life’s uncertainties will always be with us. Our limitations will always tempt us to aim low. Excuses are readily available. Stasis is the easiest option. But hidden within each one of us always are endless possibilities for aspiration and discovery. Looking back now, many half-marathons and marathons later, that one brief conversation with my friend Karen changed me. Her words of faith and encouragement made a lasting difference in my own frame of mind and sense of belief.

“You’re ready now!”

She was right. I couldn’t see it. I needed to be shown. I needed to be pushed. I needed to hear it. How about you? What are you dreaming of doing? What are you waiting for? You never know if you never try.

You’re ready now!

Most likely, you’ve already put in a lot of the work.

You’re ready now!

Go, and give it your best shot.

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