I could hear the cheers of the crowd, but I couldn’t actually see the finish line, because it was about a quarter of a mile uphill. Who does that? Who puts the finish line of a half-marathon uphill? In that moment, I definitely mumbled some colorful words to myself, but I kept pushing. I had to. After all, I’d been pushing for what seemed like forever to get to this point so what was a little bit further?
As a child, I was told that I couldn’t run. My asthma would make it too hard. My lungs weren’t strong enough. It was basically impossible. But at the age of twenty-three, I decided that all of those things just weren’t true and I started to run, albeit in an incredibly painfully slow manner.
Eventually I started to wonder if I could take on the challenge of a half-marathon, but every time it flashed through my mind I let it go just as quickly. It was on my “life list” but seemed far too daunting. I had a lot going on in life: work, a brand-new marriage, friends, hobbies. I didn’t have time to train for a race that long!
DEPLOYMENT CHANGED EVERYTHING
“I’m deploying this year. For about six months.” If there were a list of words sure to make a military spouse’s heart clench, those would be at the top without a doubt. But here was my husband saying those very words as if they were as simple as “Hey, can you get milk tomorrow?” But they weren’t simple. They were life-altering and they sent me reeling.
We’d just gotten married. We were supposed to be doing cute newlywed things this year. We weren’t supposed to spend half of the first year of our marriage across the world from each other. What was I going to do with all that time by myself?
It hit me shortly before my husband left—I’d used running to help me deal with grief, uncertainty, and pain in the past. I’d used it to prove to myself that I could do more than I previously thought. Why not use it again? Why not prove to myself that I could take on this huge challenge?
While my husband was overseas in the middle of a desert, I got up each morning before the North Carolina summer heat took over and ran. I ran through the neighborhood, through city streets, and through park trails for miles and miles and miles.
Each sweaty, exhausting mile brought me one mile closer to my goal of running a half-marathon, but there was more to it than that. Each time I dragged myself out of bed before the sun, each time I went farther than I had the day before, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt stronger, more confident. Maybe I could do this . . . all of this: run this half-marathon, handle life as a military spouse, and take on challenges that I felt were beyond me.
Eventually, the race that was scheduled just days before homecoming became more than just a race. It was the last hurdle in my deployment experience, and I was going to scratch, claw, struggle, and fight to get there.
So, in the end, it made perfect sense for that half-marathon to end uphill, in a fitting metaphor for deployment, when the last days seem to stretch on endlessly and each minute waiting for that familiar face feels like an eternity. After training for months, I could tackle this last hill. After waiting for months, I could tackle the last few weeks until homecoming.
When I crossed that finish line, my first thought was that I could do anything. The second was that I really wanted a piece of pizza, but let’s focus on that first one. Talk about an empowering feeling!
Even now, years later, I still think of that moment when I crossed the finish line, and all the little moments that led up to it, as one of my proudest accomplishments. I’ve drawn on the strength I felt in that moment when faced with other challenges: starting my own business, accepting a job that tested me in new ways, leaving friends and family behind when the Navy called my husband to a new city.
Because when you prove to yourself that you can do the one thing you’d never thought possible, suddenly all those other things aren’t nearly as scary.
Here are my tips to build confidence by taking on a challenge:
Start small! Whether it’s running a race or writing a book, breaking that challenge down into chunks will help you keep momentum.
Set yourself up for success. Make sure you have the time and resources to truly tackle this goal.
Ask others for help. Maybe it’s a ride home after you finish that marathon or trading childcare with a friend so you have some time to focus. Big challenges are easier when someone is there to help.
Rachel McQuiston is the owner and chief care package maker at Countdowns and Cupcakes, where thoughtful care package décor helps connect families separated by duty and distance. She also helps you make care packages fun and easy again with Care Package Boot Camp, a course that shares all the best tricks and secrets from the pros. She’s a proud Navy wife, lover of anything orange, Clemson Tiger fan, dog mom, and travel enthusiast. Her creative care package designs are available on Etsy.