I didn’t start running until my early 30’s. As a product of the 80’s, the focus for me had always been sporadic attendance in aerobics classes, combined with disordered eating habits and smoking a pack each day. Athletic? No. Healthy? Not in the least. But I was a size 4, so whatever.
As I dropped the nicotine addiction and began eating like a normal human being … it happened. Weight started piling on. Ok, not piling on, but 3-5 pounds caused me to re-examine the alternatives. Maybe I’d missed potential benefits that come from chain-smoking and subsisting on 1,200 calories.
It dawned on me that my body was starting to decay while I still occupied it. And things weren’t going to get any better.
So, I put my gym shoes on and headed outside. It took less than half a mile before things completely fell apart. My lungs were burning and with legs that were more accustomed to ‘grapevines’, I had no idea how to deal.
Running was boring. Boring and painful. And awkward. Seriously, there is nothing graceful or elegant about my running style. It’s like slowly falling down the stairs for several miles.
But it felt so good when I would stop running for the day that I knew I had to keep going.
18 months later, I ran my first marathon. It wasn’t fast, and certainly wasn’t pretty, but I finished within a few minutes of my goal time. The stadium had a section designated for runners to pick-up their things. A sign indicated, “Athletes only beyond this point.” It took several minutes to realize this now included me. Whatever I had been before, athlete was now a part of my identity.
As my son grew older, I realized that running had morphed from simply trying to not decaying. Training plans and overcoming obstacles showed him the importance of goals. When he pretended to do hill work, I knew quitting was not an option.
Running has represented many different things to me over the last two decades. When I was working for a toxic group in the tech industry, running was a few hours without chaos. Training runs provide structure during periods of grief. Traveling to new cities is more exciting with an early morning five-miler.
I run to keep my body alive. Not only in the physical sense, but to genuinely engage with itself and realize what is possible.
The split-second exhilaration I feel when I cross a finish line comes from hours of running in bad weather. It’s about making yourself try, even when you really don’t want to get out of bed. It’s about occasionally pushing yourself just to see how that slowly-decaying body still performs. I lost more toenails than I can count, and found so much peace along the way.
The work can be boring. And painful. And definitely, definitely not pretty. And yet, off I go.
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