Fifty percent fear.
That’s how I’ve been operating lately.
I wouldn’t consider myself a runner. Nor, yet, would anyone else I know. I have a goal to run a half marathon in the spring, but by generous standards I’m still a novice. I set out on a run the other night when it was past dark and 37 degrees out. The last time I remember attempting to run in the winter cold I thought my lungs were going to stage a coup and leave my body by way of my mouth. But per my program I needed to run for 20 minutes without rest and I simply couldn’t spend another 20 minutes on the treadmill. And it’s December now so it gets dark in the time it takes me to find clean(ish) socks.
As I exited the house I turned on my headlamp, popped in both earbuds, and realized if a coyote was near I wouldn’t be able hear it. (Note: I live a few miles outside of town and have seen more wildlife than humans in my “neighborhood”.) As I left the driveway I thought as nonchalantly as I could, “I’m pretty scared right now”. I then determined I was about fifty percent afraid. But fifty percent wasn’t enough to stop. Because that other fifty percent? That’s what kept me moving. Whatever that other fifty percent is- courage, moxie, stubbornness- it’s what kept me moving for 20 minutes.
I began to reflect on all the other activities I partake in. Long distance hiking. Rock climbing. Bouldering. Each one of these, at some point or another, fills me with about fifty percent fear. Hell, maybe more. Hiking at night? Cougars. Rocking climbing? Heights. Bouldering? I’m probably going to hit my head on the wall eventually. But as I’ve taken on all of these activities lately, I’ve realized that fear absolves as soon as I decide to keep going. I never stop being afraid of heights, of knocking myself out, or of you know, rapists and bears in the woods near my house (because I’m sure that’s where they’re all hiding out). But once I decide to proceed, the fear becomes part of the momentum. Becomes something else I want to conquer. I don’t become less afraid, I just become more powerful than my fear.
I took an earbud out a couple of times during my run, just to be aware of my surroundings. I looked around and tried to listen for anything alarming. Nothing. Except the next song on my playlist was an N’Sync song, and sorry guys but I need something a little more commanding of power when I’m running from bears and rapists. It occurred to me that this “conquering of fear” could also be considered “ignoring fear” and might be foolish. It’s probably how people get injured- deciding fear isn’t worth listening to. And I don’t know when it becomes something you do need to listen to. When it’s more that fifty percent? I imagine if fear were accurately quantifiable many people continually overcome fear that’s occupying more than fifty percent of their present emotional state. Because the momentum of overcoming your fear motivates you to overcome more. So that by the time I finished my run, I wasn’t overcoming the freezing cold, or darkness, or my body’s silent little sobs in my shins. I was overcoming what had really kept me from doing it sooner, the idea that I couldn’t.