Couch to 5K for Cellists, Week 6: The Steps To Possibility

By Miranda Wilson

Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then: Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes); Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes); Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes.C25K app, Week 6 Day 2.

After last week’s realization that progress doesn’t always go in a straight line upwards, I felt much less pressured to get faster or be better at running.

So far, I haven’t made a habit of previewing the next running assignment on the app, preferring to open it only when I’ve put on my workout clothes, stretched, and tied my running shoes. Week 5 Day 3 was therefore a surprise: “Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog two miles (or 20 minutes) with no walking.”

Twenty. Minutes.

My first thought was “I can’t do this!”

My second thought was “Well, I did make that rule that I could quit at any time, so if I really can’t do it I can stop.”

I started running. I was slow and bad and uncoordinated, but I was slow and bad and uncoordinated for twenty consecutive minutes. I had to take a nap afterwards, but I ran for twenty minutes. Me, the kid who got picked last for every team.

***

By contrast, Week 6 Day 1 seemed less intimidating by comparison.

Back in Week 3, I realized that C25K has a lot in common with some of the methods I use to increase speed in cello practice. I figured this was what they were doing in Week 6. I had run for twenty minutes in Week 5, therefore the shorter runs in Week 6 would likely be easier by comparison.

(Voiceover: “They weren’t.”)

***

I started the first run at my usual very slow pace with my usual feelings of martyred suffering. Now that running has become more habitual, I find myself less fearful and self-conscious, but I still can’t say it’s brought me any enjoyment in the moment. A sense of achievement at the end, yes, definitely, but I’m still waiting for that “runner’s high” that people keep telling me about. (You probably have to run faster and for longer than I do to get one.)

This was the first run in which I hadn’t counted every second by my footsteps (“One-and-a-two-and-a-three-and-a-are-we-there-yet-and-a”). I had a rough idea of how far I could go in a minute, so I just focused on something pleasant to look at in the distance, such as the evening sky, the trees, or Moscow Mountain in the distance. It was during the first run that it suddenly occurred to me: there has never been a C25K running session that I couldn’t finish. Not even the day when I had to run for twenty consecutive minutes.

What made this startling was that before and during every run I’d been on, the uppermost thought in my mind had been “I can’t do this!”

But I could do this. I had managed every run without injury. There had never been a point at which I couldn’t go on.

***

The Hardest Thing to Teach

If being a good cello teacher were only about imparting factually accurate information on how to improve technique, it would be much easier to be a good cello teacher. Anyone who plays cello at a high level can spot a bad bow-hold a mile away. Fixing bow-holds isn’t exactly easy, but it’s much easier than some of the things we have to do to get cello students through milestones such as recitals and auditions.

I’ve had many students for whom the thought of performing in public was the most horrifying and impossible thing they could imagine. For me, the hardest thing about teaching cello is getting a student to the emotional headspace where they can perform successfully and with confidence.

Two Anecdotes

  • One of my recent graduates told me before her senior recital that she had been dreading this moment since her freshman year because she couldn’t even imagine that it would ever be possible. She went on to perform her challenging program very well.
  • One of my adult beginners in the UIdaho Music Prep Division, our community program, assured me that he was studying cello for personal reasons and that he couldn’t and certainly wouldn’t be performing, thanks very much. That wasn’t going to work for me, because I believe music should be shared, so I told him he was definitely going to perform…one day. One of my proudest moments as a teacher, therefore, was the recital at which this student gave a most accomplished performance of Jean-Baptiste Bréval’s Sonata in C Major in front of the other students and their families. Was he nervous? Yes, of course. Could he do it? Also yes.

You’re Already Doing It

Once it had occurred to me that I really could run, I realized that I had been approaching it from an “I can’t do this!” mindset.

(Voiceover: “There’s your problem.”)

I started thinking about all the difficult things I’ve done in my life and how although they required much plucking-up of courage, I got through them. Moving to a different country (twice), auditioning for graduate programs, giving concerts, writing books, making CDs, applying for jobs, competing in contests, pitching articles, presenting at conferences. None of it was easy and I quite often felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the enormousness of the task.

Once, I had something difficult to do that was so big and so complicated that I really thought I wasn’t going to finish. Over coffee with a friend, I said weepily “I don’t think I can do this.”

My friend looked at me sternly. “You can do it,” she said. “You’re already doing it.”

I looked back at her in astonishment. She was right: I was already doing the task. I had procrastinated and doom-spiraled over it, but I’d started it. If you’ve started something, by definition you’re doing the thing. You’re already doing it.

Was that really all there was to doing something hard?

***

And with that thought in mind, I started out on the second of my ten-minute runs. This time, instead of counting every footstep and dreading that out-of-breath feeling, I realized I could run without hating it, doubting myself, being ridiculed by anyone, or having an emotional meltdown. I ran for 2.4 miles. That’s 3.89 kilometres. 1.11 more and I’d be at my goal of 5K. I was up off the couch. I was already doing it.

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 1 – P. E. Trauma and Music Trauma

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 2 – Permission to Be Bad

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 3 — Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 4 — Belonging

Read Couch to 5K for Cellists Week 5 — Non-Linear Progress

© Miranda Wilson, 2021. No part of this blog post may be reproduced without permission of the author.

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