If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You

By Diane Kukich

With Kathy after the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington, DC.
With Kathy after the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington, DC.

Australian Luke Tyburski, whose 2,000K trek from Morocco to Monaco in 12 days is documented in The Ultimate Triathlon, ends the movie with the comment “If it Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You.”

The miles that Luke swam, biked, and ran in that short period of time—and the injuries that he endured along the way—are far beyond anything most of us can imagine: strong currents on the swim across the Strait of Gibraltar, bike rides in the mountains of southern France, days of running double marathons, a torn quad muscle, blisters the size of silver dollars….
But Luke’s message resonated with me and was actually quite timely.

I suffer from strong travel anxiety—I’m terrified of driving on interstates, unfamiliar with how to use public transportation in new places, and uncomfortable with sleeping in hotels and eating outside my comfort zone.

I also don’t venture far outside my comfort zone when it comes to exercise. Yes, I work out every day, but it’s at a very doable level—three-mile runs, 15-mile bike rides, one-mile swims.

So why did I register for a national conventional and coaching class in Washington, DC, and then add to my stress level by signing up for a 10-mile race, a distance I haven’t run in more than a decade?

I guess the easy answers are that my friend Kathy Nguyen, founder of WeRunWithYou, talked me into it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time—when the actual events were months away.

As the date got closer, though, my anxiety level rose. Knowing my fear of driving on busy interstates, another friend talked me into taking a train to DC and then using Uber to get to the hotel. That eased my fears on one side, but raised new ones on the other, as I hadn’t ridden a train since I was in college, and I had never taken Uber.

On the race side, I agonized over taking the easy way out and opting for the 5K, but I knew deep down that the 5K option would leave me feeling empty. The Cherry Blossom is an iconic 10-miler, with the 5K option offered mostly for people who can’t finish the longer distance in the allotted time. I knew that I could finish the 10 miles, but the competitive side of me didn’t want to just finish it—I wanted to do well, meet a time goal, and possibly place in my age group.

But no matter how much I agonized and how high my anxiety level rose, the day arrived when I had to pack my bags and head for DC. The first two hurdles were checked off by noon. I rode the train from Perryville, Maryland, to Union Station in DC, and had a stress-free Uber ride with a friendly, safe driver.

With Kathy and Meb Keflezighi at the RRCA Convention in Washington, DC
With Kathy and Meb Keflezighi at the RRCA Convention in Washington, DC

The convention and classes turned out to be great. Kathy and I met some wonderful people at the meals, we learned a lot from our classes, and we heard two very inspirational speakers from the running community.

Then, it was Sunday morning. We were up at 4:45, dressing in the race kits that we had set out the night before. We boarded the bus in the dark at 6:00 and dreaded getting off, knowing that it was only a couple degrees above freezing outside.

Finally, at 7:35, we were off and running in a mass of people from the blue corral. I had originally considered doing a run-walk approach to ensure that I could make the distance, but we were so packed in during the first two miles that I couldn’t even consider slowing down. By mile 3, I started checking in with myself, remembering what world-class runner Deena Kastor had told us in her speech at lunch the day before: just stay in the moment and look to get to the next light post and then the next one and the next one.

At every mile marker, I asked myself if I could make one more mile, and the answer continued to be “yes,” all the way up to the tenth and last mile.

The final half mile was slightly uphill, but I pushed on, realizing by then that I was about five minutes ahead of my goal time. I crossed the finish line with a mix of emotions—ecstatic about my time, relief that this big race was finally over, and a little sad that there was no one to share my success with right away. But Kathy and I soon found each other in the crowd and went to the results tent, where I learned that I had finished fifth in my age group of 65 women ages 65-69.

Cold and exhausted, we got our medals and asked for directions to the Metro. With some help from a kind man at the station, we bought our passes and boarded the subway back to the hotel. We both took hot showers and changed into warm, comfortable clothes for the trip home.

Later that day, I thought about all that I had gone through in three days, and I realized that the challenges of taking public transportation, staying at a hotel with someone I’ve known for only a little more than a year, and racing 10 miles had changed me.
Thanks, Kathy, for challenging me so that I could reap the benefits of positive change.

Diane Kukich

Diane Kukich

Diane is a retired science writer. She holds a senior fitness training certificate from the University of Delaware and a Level 2 Running Coach certification from Road Runners Club of America. She started running in her late 40s and has won hundreds of first and second place age-group awards in local, regional, and national races at distances from the mile to the half marathon. She swims, runs, or bikes every day and strength trains twice a week. Diane lives in Newark, Delaware, with her husband, Doug, her yellow Lab Jodie, and her orange tabby Pax.

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