How I use running to engage with my Comfort Zone.

I am not a runner. As a disclosure, I can say I am a novice runner. “Novice” describes the situation well: I am learning.

It sounds like one of the famous quotes from Michelangelo [I am still learning], so I can be more explicit: running is a way to test my ability to compete with my Comfort Zone.

I am passionate about the notion of Comfort Zone. I believe in challenging the status quo, embracing diversity and evolving. Our world is changing fast and requires a special dedication: a mix of curiosity, creativity, and willingness to learn during our entire life (you can discover more in the Comfort Zone Shake Up blog manifesto).

Learning is described as the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.

I like this definition, as it doesn’t mention any definite time in which we can do that nor a precise situation. I see the act of learning as a never-ending process; a structural element of the human nature that helps us to evolve and shape our Comfort Zone. In every situation in life – we can be a novice, or we can be a pro – as soon as we want, we can learn. It is a personal journey, and each of us needs to find his or her way.

Sports in general, and running in particular for me are a sort of “grab & go” example. With the right mindset, method, and dedication we can all go beyond our limitation. Sometimes the journey is uncomfortable, but what we can achieve is worth compared to the investment.

I’ve seen this mechanism in place many times when I use to teach aerobics in a gym. New people were most of the time intimidated and truly out of their Comfort Zone when they had to sync their movements to the music in a particular sequence. After weeks or months of commitment, they were able to enjoy the experience, and they were asking for more: complex choreography and also variety. I was proud of them and fascinated by this mechanism: everybody with proper dedication can learn and improve.

Then I moved to New York where I discovered what run means. What you can feel while you are running in Central Park is tough to describe. It doesn’t matter who you are – thin, fat, tall, short, male, female, blond, dark, black, white, novice or pro – the universe of Central Park is for everybody and every challenge.

I’ve decided to start running (quite seriously) a bit more than one year ago, and I want to share the journey I did so far. I am a novice runner, and I don’t want to teach anything to anyone. If you want to apply the definition of learning to run, and you want to learn something, find a good coach, start reading running articles and magazines and start building your skills and knowledge by practicing. I know, it sounds like intimidating (it is still intimidating also for me). Remember: every experience is personal!

I see running experience as a way to play with my Comfort Zone. My recommendation is to use this lens.

Before January 2015, my longest distance was 10K, and I hadn’t even thought about the speed. I studied ballet following the London “Royal Academy of Dancing” method for twenty years; I was six years old when I started. Indoor training, strength, agility, an understanding of music and rhythm were (and are still) part of my Comfort Zone. As you can imagine an outdoor training – even when the temperature is chilly – long distances and absence of choreography were not “my thing.”

It was challenging. It was cold. It was marvelous.

In January, I joined the Team for Kids “family.”

a committed group of adult runners from around the world who add meaning to their miles by raising funds for NYRR’s Youth and Community Services programs while training for major endurance events.

Thanks to their expertise, coaching, training on nutrition and advice even on what to wear; after ten weeks of preparation, I ran my first Half Marathon. And it was not just a regular half; it was the New York City Half Marathon. After more than one year I can close my eyes, and I can still remember almost every instant of my 2:14:49 first run. The excitement before the starting line, the beginning in the Park with its hills and the advice to take it easy to manage the entire race properly. And then my favorite part: Times Square, which is closed to the traffic only two times per year, for the Half Marathon and New Year’s Eve. And then the cheers of thousands of people, a lot of music along the way and finally the finish line on Wall Street, my first finish line. I was not fast, but I did it. I completed a 13.1 race. I did something impossible even to think about only a few months before. I was happy, and I was able to enjoy all the 13.1 miles.

Even if it was my first race, thanks to the training and thanks to Team for Kids, I was unexpectedly inside my Comfort Zone.

Without any hesitation, I decided to do the 9+1. I ran nine different races, and I volunteer with New York Road Runners once, to gain the guaranteed entry to the 2016 New York City Marathon. I felt strong and motivated thanks to the great first experience.

Unfortunately, a good start is sometimes misleading. I felt completely out of my Comfort Zone in few occasions during my 2015 experience. If I look back now, I can see that this was part of the learning process, and it is what experience means. Even though I knew it, I can say that it was not nice.

Queens – 10K in June – was terrible. My worst time ever and I felt like I was dying. It was hot; it was humid. I was not well prepared as my mind ignored a challenge (it was only 10K!). I did not label it under “challenge.” It was a failure; it was frustrating.

Bronx – 10 Miles in September – was OK (a sort of).

Staten Island – 13.1 Miles in October was the worst. It was my first year in trying to attempt the 9+1, and I did not manage the schedule accurately. I ended up running long distances (two half and one 10 Miles) three weeks in a row without the right weekly training. During Staten Island, I started to feel pain in one of my knee. I was able to reach the finish line only by walking. Do I need to say that I was again far from my Comfort Zone? Of course, I was, and I didn’t like the feeling at all.

I stopped any training for more than two months, and I was suddenly back to the beginning. Then it was again the stat of the Year with a newly refreshed attitude, renewed focus on the right mindset, method, and dedication. I started the preparation for the Half Marathon New York again. This time, I was afraid for my knee, and I paid extra attention to stretching and cross training. In January, I never run more than 3 Miles as a part of the recovery.

I run my second New York Half out of my Comfort Zone afraid for my knee. I was able to enjoy my city only partially even if I ended up with almost the same time as my first one: 2:14:03. It was not the same feeling.

I got the point, and I worked even harder for the Brooklyn Half, another first for me.

That was incredible. A storm of emotions pushed me in and out my Comfort Zone while I was running, but finally, I did it! No pain and a big gain: 2:03:37. My best time ever! I know, I am still above the 2 hours, but I hope to improve soon. Even because 2016 will be the year of my first Marathon.

November is coming, and I need to be ready to step again out my Comfort Zone!