“I can’t….”

My phone buzzes and I blearily open my eyes and make a half hearted grab for it. The time is 5:30am and my phone is cheerfully announcing I have 10 minutes to get my arse up out of bed and ready for this morning’s activities. This morning I have decided that I am going to attempt running again after my abysmal attempt to train for a marathon in Amsterdam. I decided to do this six months after Beanster was born, having done no serious exercise pre or post labour and had just 6 months to go until the actual event. Needless to say, my training efforts were less than sterling, and when my running partner pulled out due to unexpected baby number two I realistically cancelled my marathon plans and haven’t even contemplated running again…until now.

I roll out of bed (literally, the only way I can get my body to move is if I’m making it think that it’s still lying down!) and shlup my way to the bathroom where I have laid out my clothes in advance knowing my early morning reluctance would baulk at having to track down where my long neglected exercise clothes are.

Clothes on, warm up done, I step outside into the dark, unwelcoming morning. Fortunately my road, which is normally a veritable wind tunnel, is nice and calm and it’s actually quite a pleasant beginning to the run. With my music blasting away in my ears encouraging me to keep moving, I slowly (oh so slowly!) make my way around the village. It’s nice and quiet, the only people I see are other runners who are kind enough to give me a quick nod as they whizz on past me. As hard as it is to get up, I love this time. The alone time it gives me to think, to plan or to just daydream as my feet, “pit pat pit pat”, along the pavement. I still have an on again/off again relationship with running, but I don’t loathe it anymore.

Thinking back to before I actually attempted to run properly (as in with a plan) it’s hard to say what my attitude to running was. I think I can honestly say it puzzled me. I couldn’t understand how I could get through hour after hour of fast paced, high intensity dance classes and yet still be winded after less than five minutes of running. These experiences made me uncomfortable at this perceived inability to run so I would mentally shrug it off and say to myself “well I just can’t run”. Even when the subject of exercise came up in conversation, my friends and I would regale each other with stories of what we couldn’t do. Looking back I want to smack my younger self in the head.

The thing is, “can’t”, is such a sneaky word. There’s a ring of finality about it and how people use it. When someone says, “I can’t do that”, there always seems to be the mental tag on of, “and I never will”. People use the word to validate the fact they have given up. Even if they return to the original goal they end up going through the same pattern and give up at the same point if not even sooner, they use these negative experiences to reinforce their original opinion and end up never challenging themselves.

I was stuck into this cycle until I came to my current job. I am so lucky to be immersed in a work environment that actively encourages me to positively challenge myself in areas where I feel weakest. Cue my discovery of Couch to 5k (C25K) around about the same time as my discovery of Jane McGonigal. The training programme slowly but surely increased the level of challenge every week so, while I felt pushed, I never reached the “can’t” zone.

This way of training made running fun for me, and that was the key to my perseverance with the programme. I got to send out updates of how I was doing to my Facebook and Twitter, I jogged along buoyed by the congratulations and comments of my friends. Personally, I saw myself getting better and managing to run for longer and longer before feeling like my lungs were going to jump up my throat and throttle me for considering such a damn fool thing. The programme was designed to constantly make me push myself to my limit, but never further than I could go, leaving me with a glowing sense of smug satisfaction that I had managed to do another ‘run’. The fact that it was helping me to keep up better in my training as well was also a lovely bonus! People so often take things seriously and I get the impression that they don’t allow something to be fun as it can seem childish to do so. Embrace the fun I say! It will lead you to amazing places!

This is an attitude we try very hard to encourage in our instructors. In one of my first posts I wrote about how important it was for the kids in our classes to have fun while they were learning. If they are having fun they are more likely to push their boundaries, challenge themselves to attempt things that they would normally look at and say, “I can’t do that”. As a child I have many memories of gritting my teeth as an adult figure would look at me and say, “there’s no such thing as can’t”, (slightly reminiscent of this little green dude). I have vowed to NEVER utter these words to a child. Firstly because it is one of the most frustrating sentences to ever hear, secondly because it is vastly unhelpful to someone who is struggling. Instead I work with them to see where they are having difficulty. I encourage them to carry on trying, positively reinforcing their continued efforts with excellent points (in CKF classes we use these points to reward children who demonstrate our key values; hard work, attitude and awareness, earning two excellent points gets them onto the Tower of Excellence where the whole class gives them a round of applause for their hard work and effort).

Sometimes progress is slow, but that doesn’t matter it’s not a race. When I talk to other instructors we all agree our greatest triumphs are always from the kids we teach who find something difficult yet still persevere; the painfully shy student who eventually starts talking to the instructors, the scared child that starts joining in louder games by themselves and the child who completely forgets to be nervous because they’re having so much fun. These are our success stories, not the scores, but the progress they make as people. The bigger the challenges they chose to face and conquer, the greater their ability to say “I can’t do that…..yet”.

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