I avoided running for a LONG time. I told myself that I hated it because I wasn’t good at it. Growing up, I took up a variety of sports pretty naturally. The ones I couldn’t I told myself I didn’t like anyway (ahem, tennis). I played soccer in high school and every summer I dreaded the multiple mile runs in the humid, sweltering heat. I gave up and told myself I would never be able to run without panting and gasping for air after a shot period of time.
One day I decided that I would run because I couldn’t run. I was frustrated with not being able to do something (getting a sense of my perfectionism?) so I did it to prove a point to myself. I never dreamed that running would turn into such an important part of my life and my overall sense of well-being. I started out running a little at a time until I couldn’t anymore. What I learned over time is that I had no idea how to pace myself and this is why I was running out of breath and gasping for air after such a short period of time. I wasn’t listening to my body when it told me to slow down. It didn’t help when I would run around other people because I would automatically try and run faster to look like I was better than I was (more outside emphasis). Instead, I would end up looking worse as I huffed and puffed and stopped to catch my breath.
My journey with running spanned a number of years and over time I realized that I enjoyed it. I looked forward to being able to go out with just myself and some music and be alone with my thoughts. It became a type of meditation for me. It shifted from something I could fixate on in my never ending struggle to look better and thinner to a way to get outside of myself for an hour or more. I was able to turn off the music and concentrate on the rhythm of my breathing, my surroundings, and the feeling of peace that came over me when I ran. If I had a tough day, running would help me sort out my thoughts and process whatever was happening and helped my mood tremendously. It helped to balance me out.
I worked my way from being unable to run a mile to running twelve. I helped organize and ran in a 10K race last fall to help raise awareness for mental illness. I have learned a lot about running (and how important properly selected shoes are!), but the most important thing that I have learned is to be able to listen to what your body is telling you. There have been times when I admit my motivation for running was not the most spiritual and instead I ramped up the mileage in an attempt to reach some kind of unattainable physical goal. It was during these times that I needed the music and was not able to connect to anything but the numbers on the treadmill. I ignored when my body pleaded for me to rest because I was wearing it down. I paid for that deliberate ignorance with a number of injuries that prevented me from running altogether. This is why I say that the most important thing I have learned is to listen when my body tells me to slow down.
I hurt myself in June stretching after a run. I forced a stretch too far and felt a snap in my hip. Long story short, I was only able to start running again this morning. I was unable to go to a doctor because I didn’t have health insurance (more on that later) and felt like it was insignificant enough to let it heal on it’s own. The past 2 and a half months have been frustrating to say the least. I had set a goal for myself to run a 20K (12.4 miles) this August which I had registered for before I was injured. I wasn’t able to participate in the race this year, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to next year! I was able to go to the gym and focus more on weight training which I view as a blessing in disguise because I had been meaning to get back to it, but I still missed the type of meditation I was able to get from running. Even though I wanted to get out and run outside, I knew that I would have to let my body take the time it needs to heal.
My run this morning was the best reward. I didn’t care that my pace was slower than it had been or that my face was bright, BRIGHT red when I was done (that’s really nothing new); all I cared about was the feeling that I was left with when I was done. I don’t run for anyone else but myself so I no longer feel bad if someone is faster than me or runs farther. All I care about is the feeling that I’m left with after a long run. If you haven’t found that feeling yet, keep running. It looks something like this: