“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…..I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
– Anne Lamott
Inspiration flows from many sources. Often I am inspired by people who come into my life by happenstance but seem familiar somehow….those who are generous enough to shed light on a gem I may already have but have yet to notice.
From the ages of 22 to 29, I lived and worked in a rural area of Japan, teaching English as a Second Language. I was fortunate enough to be placed in a lush, green, sparsely populated area on the island of Shikoku which allowed me to fully immerse myself into the language and culture.
My time in Japan was marked by highs and lows. I fell in love, got married, became ill, got help, regained my health, did some necessary exploration & eventually uncovered my love of running long distances in nature.
Two years before leaving Japan and moving back to Seattle, I trained for and completed my first marathon. I had been running daily, but nothing more than 5 or 6 miles. I ran along the river in the hot sun and was the recipient of many stares, puzzled looks and the occasional “Hellooooo!!!”. Not many women were out running, let alone tall pale blonde ones.
I began to see one woman. Over & over, and she was running looooong and fast. One day she stopped and asked me very slowly in Japanese what I was training for. I remember feeling so flattered that she talked to me! Turns out she was training for a marathon that September. She said something along the lines of: “HEY! You should do it too!!!”
At that time in my life, I NEEDED her to say that. I needed this fast strong marathoner, who didn’t even know me, to stop and give me a huge smile, a vote of confidence and a empowering invitation: “Let’s run together – I’ll help you!”
So began 4 months of meeting Kana for weekend long runs. She would plan the distance, the route; waiting for me religiously out front my apartment at 6AM. At that time I was 27 and newly married. She was in her mid-30s and was a single working mother of a 10 year old boy. (A crystal ball would have let me know that I’d better take good notes because I would, years later, be in her shoes…and she was the epitome of strength, courage & self-respect.) She wasn’t letting her difficult situation stamp out her dreams. She didn’t let cultural pressures smoosh her determination and desire. In short, she INSPIRED ME. She wasn’t seeking perfection, she was simply demanding the very best of herself. That was an eye-opening summer.
I’m sure we looked ridiculous running along the river, arms flailing as we used gestures and body language to communicate. My Japanese was satisfactory and her English was nearly non-existent. We laughed a lot. She counted off the kilometers and ran me through that summer right up to the race. She gave up a whole weekend to drive me to the course, high in the mountains, so that we could run the most difficult section before race day.
My goal was to finish under 4 hours. Being my first marathon, I really had no idea what to expect. Per my normal way of doing things, I chose a hilly, hot, difficult marathon for my first. All on winding mountain roads, through villages and rice fields, ending in a tiny village along a beautiful river, complete with natural springs to soak in.
It was 91 sweaty degrees at the start. (this sounds completely barfy to me now, but at the time I was accustomed to the heat & humidity). I had my race plan, Kana had hers – and we were off.
my first marathon, Japan 1997
I remember having so much fun…loving every minute…until around mile 21 or so. At that point I really started to question my ability to finish this thing in one piece. Looking back on this day, I felt the pull of my friend the whole way. I knew she was up there, running strong and fast…and that she believed in me.
With 1 mile to go, my 4 hour goal was still in sight but I needed to pick it up. I ran across a little bridge and saw Kana, in flip-flops and street clothes (as she had finished 40+ minutes earlier) waiting for me, screaming her heart out. She yelled the Japanese equivalent of “YOU GOT THIS SISTER!!!” and ran that last mile with me. I was in tears from all the emotions and physical exhaustion. She ran me right in to a 3:54 finish. To this day, this is my proudest finish and the one most dear to my heart.
Now that I am training for my first 100 miler, I see obstacles popping up daily which challenge my commitment and dedication. I have found myself looking at my training plan thinking “WTF!!??” How in the HELL can I fit this in?? As a single mom, working full-time and committing whole-heartedly to putting my son first — I am by no means executing a perfect training plan. I miss workouts, have crappy workouts, sleep in, etc etc. Not Perfect. There was a time in my life when Not Perfect = FAILURE & you-might-as-well-forget-it-and-give-up.
Thanks to the many many shining examples of imperfect yet AMAZINGLY INSPIRING women I have met along this running journey, I am letting my idea of perfection just float on out the window. Don’t need it anymore. I am inspired on a daily basis by women just like me: women with demanding jobs, kids, family responsibilities – commitments which will always take them away from the trail. I want to go to bed each night, gently knowing that I did the best I could do & fully commit to simply getting up and doing it again. I am continuously grateful for the knowledge that so many of you are right there on the same bumpy path with me.