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Being the parent of a child with autism has taught me that success breeds success.

One of the therapies many children like Brooke receive is called ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). In the simplest layman’s terms, an instructor teaches a child how to do a task by breaking the task down to its most rudimentary components. What you and I take for granted as one, single task, is often a lot more complicated than you think. Even simple games like memory or putting toothpaste on a toothbrush have to be taught step by step, each step building on the previous one. The key is providing a child like Brooke an opportunity to succeed with each step before moving on to the next one. When done properly, children like Brooke can succeed, even thrive, in their environment. The downside is that if done improperly or without caution, a child like Brooke can fail miserably at the task and refuse to go forward or learn the wrong way to do the task, leading to further frustration down the line. Once something is learned for these very rule-based children, it is extremely difficult to un-learn it.

The same can be said about running.

Confidence and belief start small. At birth, just like us, they come in many different forms (loud, quiet), but early on, they are fragile, easily shattered. That confidence, that belief, has to be cultivated, nurtured, cared for.

I have seen many people declare that they are going to start running – it will be part of their new exercise regimen, and this time dammit they’re gonna stick to it.

Three weeks later they haven’t run in a week and a half. The excuses will be there (-oh, I’ve been crazy busy. -oh, I just haven’t been feeling well. -oh, I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately) and I will do my best not to roll my eyes.

Now you may think that I’m being a little harsh with the eye-rolling. Let’s get this straight right now before the comments start flying – I am NOT rolling my eyes at the person. I am rolling my eyes at the way the person went about this new regimen. I am rolling my eyes because I went through the exact same thing – I did not respect running.

I was an on again, off again runner for a long time. My “on’s” would last about a week. My “off’s” would last about a year. Every time I would start again, I would do the exact same thing as the time before. I would put on an old pair of sneakers, I would run 4 or 5 miles and then I would be in pain. The learned experience (the bad form, the lack of pacing) from the first time I went running as an adult (if you could call me that at 22) stuck with me, not as a learning experience, but as one that got repeated over an over again.

I thought I could just go out there and run. It’s just running, right? And to a degree that is true. However, if you aren’t athletically gifted (which despite what the wife says, I am not), your body can do some really weird things the first couple of times you go out there. Fortunately for me, out of complete dumb luck, this last time around I accidentally did things the right way. I started with low mileage (2-3 miles per run, 3 times per week) and built up from there. True, I probably built up too quickly over the course of the following few weeks, but the point is, I started slowly and let my body experience “success” at running before moving up to the next level.

Now some people may feel uncomfortable with this “babying” of oneself to breed success, but I draw a line of distinction from the “everybody wins-nobody loses” philosophy in that running is not primarily about competition. Yes, I run races. YES, I get competitive with those of equal ability. But running to me is about feeling good. It’s about that rush of blood coursing through my body, my focused energy, or chi as those who follow Chinese martial arts will know it. It’s about the endorphins carrying me through the day with a smile on my face. These are the fruits one harvests by taking care of the seed when one starts running.

That’s the thing though – you have to take care of the seed early. Pay attention and listen to your body. The best thing I did early on in my latest attempt at running was pay attention to my form. I am still a work-in-progress. My form is far from perfect. I still strike with my heel. I still bounce up and down when I run. However, I do both to a much lesser degree than I once did. As my form gets better and more efficient, the nagging aches and pains diminish. I haven’t had a serious injury in quite a while.

I find that I am enjoying my runs more and more, despite the fact that they are getting longer , harder and faster. Just when my body should be feeling like it’s taking a beating, it feels great…

…all because, I took care of the seed.

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