There was a point in my life that I always felt the purpose of my runs was to escape. Running served as a type of stress relief for me. It was a way for me to get away from everything and to be alone with my thoughts, my music, and the road.
[I should mention that even before that time, I would do anything in my power to avoid running. Period. I considered people who ran marathons for fun to be psychotic lovers of torture. Why on God’s green earth did anybody want to spend hours running, with their legs burning and lungs gasping for air, only to lose toenails? Sounds like winning the lottery to me, right?! #not]
It took me until I was 34 to actually start running regularly. As in, run more than a 5k or 10k once a year. Part of the reason I began to run was to lose weight. I hated myself for the way I’d let myself go in my thirties. As a former collegiate All-American, soccer was always my workout, even into my 20’s when I kept playing for fun. When I was chasing a ball, it didn’t feel like work; it didn’t hurt as much. But then my metabolism slowed down, I had a baby, I was drinking like a fish and continued to eat like I did in high school ——–> Cue 40 pound weight gain!!!
Running was painful in the beginning. One mile took so much out of me I literally thought I was going to die. The only reason why I kept going was because of the half-marathon race my husband had signed us up for in Disney World. It was so expensive that I knew I couldn’t back out or he would be so angry (and rightfully so). So I kept running. And running. And running. More out of obligation than anything.
At the beginning of this journey I was running away from myself. I never wanted to return to that number on the scale, I never wanted to go back to feeling as embarassed as I did. But even after I lost the weight, I was still “running to run away.” Instead of running away from my former physical self, I was running away from my life. I wanted to get out. I wanted to escape being a mom and a wife. I wanted to escape the frustrations I felt about where my life was headed. I didn’t feel as though I was good enough. I never felt like I mattered. Yet to the outside world, my life seemed happy and perfect.
A few years later, the ability to run was taken away from me. I was met with one of the biggest turning points in my life. Facing my first knee surgery at 37, I tried to be positive. I mean, I was positive for the most part. But finding another way to “escape my life” was nearly impossible at this point. I went through some unhealthy phases at first – binging on Netflix shows and ice cream mostly. I retreated into a dark place inside my head. I don’t think anybody really knew what I was going through – the untruths I was telling myself. The self-hatred continued even after I began exercising again and doing physical therapy. I had more self-doubt than ever before and usually when feelings like these crept in, I would run away. Quite literally. Not this time though – I couldn’t.
I kept my head above water. At least that’s what it felt like most days. I would get into the rhythm of my rehab life for a period of time only to be pulled back under, gasping for air. Grabbing at anything I could to pull me out of that space, I would finally surface and begin the cycle again. Let’s just say I had a love-hate relationship with the stationary bike and the leg press machine.
Months and months later when I was finally given the green light to run, I was ecstatic. I was relieved. I was getting my therapy back! My escape! No more self-hate, no more self-doubt, no more what-ifs!
In reality, though, I was in pain again. I was slow. I was awkward. My gait and form were awful. I didn’t realize how much I would be limping. I was quickly reminded of all those years ago when I was overweight and just starting out as a runner. How many times I wanted to quit. How many times I figured I should just do something else since I wasn’t “getting it.”
I kept screaming inside my head, “WHY?” Why did it feel like every time I took a step forward, I ended up taking two steps back? It was a mental rollercoaster even more than a physical one. I couldn’t get ahead.
Days and weeks passed. Some weeks I would run three days, other weeks only one. When I say run, I mean jog and walk interchangeably. I did more jumping and running as part of my crosstraining workouts, too. While I didn’t realize it at the time, every little bit helped. Every time I went out to run, I was solely focused on my gait. I didn’t care how far I went or how fast I ran. I wanted to just get my form back. Little by little, I must have been retraining the connection between my brain and my legs.
Just a few days ago, I went out to run and this time I felt good enough to go an entire mile without stopping to walk. It was such an empowering moment for me. While I still had some pain and my gait wasn’t back to normal quite yet, I was able to do it. I walked for a minute or so and then picked back up, curious to see how far I could go again without stopping. I likely should have started walking with about a quarter of a mile left because of the pain and uneasy feeling I had in my knee. But I was too close to completing another mile and the athlete in me pushed me through. I finished 2.17 miles and both miles were walk-free.
Mentally, I broke through a barrier that day. Not only was I physically able to do something I hadn’t done in 8 months, but I realized I wasn’t craving running to escape anymore. I was craving it for different reasons. I wasn’t running away from my life, I was running for it. I was running for me. For the love of running.
While I know that as I get back into it I’ll need a run to de-stress sometimes, for the most part, I don’t think I’ll see running as therapy anymore as much I’ll see it as a gift. As my joy. As my favorite part of the day. I guess that’s what happens when you have something taken away. Your perspective changes. You become more grateful.
What I love about running more than anything is that it teaches you so much about yourself if you pay attention. Boundaries are usually meant to restrain and keep you safe. With running though, breaking boundaries is what sets you free and allows your soul to fly. After years of running to escape, running is now my vessel towards freedom. Freedom from self-doubt and self-hate. I am now running towards my life instead of away from it.
I think I’ll hold on to this perspective for awhile.