I used to equate running with the same horror as voluntarily hacking off a limb with a blunt, rusted saw. If you’d asked me to choose between a casual afternoon jog, or a root canal sans anesthesia, I might’ve actually preferred the root canal.
Back in the day, circa seventh grade, I viewed the mile-run as middle school’s personal punishment to its youths. Why anyone would want to strap on a pair of running shoes and subject themselves to minutes of choking heaves and exhaustion was more than my pre-pubescent brain could comprehend.
As little as one year ago, my opinion of the subject held firm.
I’m really quite athletic. After a life-long love affair with softball, and frequent appearances on recreational volleyball and dodgeball teams, in yoga classes, and planted beneath a barbell, it baffled me why I couldn’t find peace with this form of movement. It seemed so easy.
It took a coworker’s personal experience for me to understand how I could relate to this sport. Like yoga, running would be my opportunity to connect with my breath, to focus inward, and move. Now, that made sense. It took several outings, and several pep-talks for me to realize that I didn’t need to force myself into a state of panic every time I decided to run. I’d move until I couldn’t breathe, and I’d walk. And I’d run, and I’d walk. Eventually, the balance shifted to more running, and I fell in love.
Running is my ultimate de-stressor. I crave it.
Exercise, in general, makes me feel overwhelmingly powerful. My body is capable of so many fantastic feats, and knowing it can move me through the course of several miles, on foot, is astounding. Sure, the journey has its struggles—so is life.
Yesterday, exactly one year later, I participated in the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Dino Dash 5K race for the second time. I placed 20th among my pack of female 20-24-year-olds, finishing at 32:48. Not too shabby. While this is not nearly my fastest race, the improvement from last year’s go feels so good.
“My expectation was set at 45 minutes, and I rounded the corner for the finish at 38:something. I hauled ass in at 39 minutes and I feel like a damn champion. I’m capable of so many things.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 10.6.13
Running is as much a psychological challenge as it is a physical challenge; my mind can stunt me. I become hyper-aware of how my body feels; sturdy gait, burning thighs, strong core, steady breath, relaxed shoulders, sweaty everything. Fighting panic is a constant struggle. Running is such an intimate experience. I often find myself dishing out internal pep-talks to stay sane, most of which take the form of a bell curve; initially positive, slumping to misery, and returning to a state of euphoria.
Yesterday’s conversation went something like this.
Mile 1. “Wow, this is actually really enjoyable. I feel great. My legs feel strong. I’m totally going to crush this. Look at me go.”
Mile 2. “This blows. Oh my God, I can’t breathe. I’m too hot. I have too many clothes on; I knew I should’ve left this extra shirt in the car. Fuck these gloves, man. I feel so claustrophobic. I’ll walk when I get to that tree. Alright, maybe the next tree. Bitch, if you keep moving I’ll feed your ass the most delicious macaroni and cheese you’ve ever put in your mouth. Why did I think this was a good life choice?”
Mile 3. “You’re almost done. You are literally three minutes from crossing the finish line. Three minutes. Turn down for what? Good question, Lil’ Jon. Perhaps because my fucking chest feels like it’s going to explode, and I can’t feel my ankle. Must. Keep. Moving.”
And then I finished, 7 minutes faster than last year.