By Amy Friel
Last summer, I went on a first date that turned out to be pretty special.
Like most single people my age, I go on a lot of first dates; in the age of smartphones and swipe apps, an attractive companion and an evening of polite conversation over drinks is never more than a text message away. Consequently, my generation seems to have been eternally cured of that relic of a bygone era that is pre-date jitters. I am no exception.
But this date was.
On the face of things, it looked like any other evening with a shiny new romantic prospect: microbrews and dinner at a hipster pizzeria downtown. But this wasn’t another dreary Tinder match, with their boring finance jobs, ironic tank tops, and predictable Thailand travel stories.
This was different; I was nervous.
For one thing, he was a runner—a remarkable one, in fact, with national teams and a sub-30 10K to his name. For another, he was a friend— a gifted conversationalist with whom I had debated everything from the IAAF to the beer mile. He was quiet and charming, and looked like the cutest boy to ever help you with your AP chemistry homework. So when he texted me to ask me to dinner earlier that week, I felt elated.
And then the nerves kicked in.
An archetypical millennial dater, I tried everything to assuage the jitters I was so unaccustomed to feeling. I went for a pre-date run to calm my nerves. I agonized over my outfit, finally settling on a jersey sundress and canvas sneakers, a polished-meets-casual combo I’d seen Michelle Obama rock a few weeks earlier—and one which is about as close to the pages of Vogue as my sartorial style will allow. Then I gave myself a truly ridiculous (but sadly necessary) pep talk in front of the mirror:
“Be cool, Amy. Just be cool.”
And in the end, I more or less was.
As embarrassing as my pre-date rituals might have been, they belied something absent from all those Tinder dates that came before: promise.
Nerves can be unpleasant, unsettling, or even downright scary. They can make you doubt your competence and shake you to your core. Walking down the block in my sundress-and-sneakers that evening, all shaking hands and sweaty palms and butterflies in my chest, I wanted more than anything to feel like my usual, cool, detached self.
But I’m glad I didn’t; I’m glad I was a little scared, because nothing extraordinary ever comes out of cool. And even though this particular love story is over now, I can assure you that it turned out to be, in every way, extraordinary.
The Boston Marathon is less than a week away. After six months of intensive training and frenzied anticipation, I am feeling a lot of things, but cool isn’t one of them. I’m obsessively checking the weather forecast. I’m fussing over what to wear. I’m convinced I’ve become the world’s biggest consumer of Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. All the while, I’m trying to keep calm.
The nerves you feel before a marathon are unlike any other. When so many hours, so many miles, so many months boil down to one race, there’s so much that can (and often does) go wrong. And when you’re standing on the precipice of something as epic and storied as the Boston Marathon, it can be hard to imagine otherwise.
But this time around, I’m not forcing myself to “be cool.”
I’m scared, because this race, like that date last summer, shows promise, and promise can be a very scary thing. What if I mess it up? What if I get it wrong?
What if I swallow all my doubts, and risk it anyway?
Courage is something you do, not something you feel. It’s steeling yourself enough to toe the start line with shaking hands and sweaty palms and butterflies in your chest. It’s putting yourself out there when you feel out of your depth. It’s doing the thing you feel you cannot do.
Courage is a crucial ingredient in all worthwhile things, and it cannot exist in the absence of fear. You don’t have to “be cool” to make extraordinary things happen.
You only have to be brave.