I spent the early part of my life running away. From school, from home, & from my issues in general. During my 20s as I began to re-center myself, I struggled with balancing the responsibilities of mothering three young children, working part-time & staying on top of my college course work. I knew it was important to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, but it was difficult to make time. I purchased several used treadmills during the decade that it took to complete my Bachelor’s degree and finish a graduate program, because late night running was the only way I could fit cardio into my schedule. The constant hum of the machine, along with the rhythmic thumping of my feet seemed to soothe even the crankiest of my infants, so I’d often put their baby carriers in the back room with me while I worked out. The other upside to this arrangement was that I could perch my course materials on the treadmill console while attempting to read while I ran. Dangerous, I know. I’m genuinely surprised that I never seriously injured myself, though there were a few close calls.
I had become the master multi-tasker and had learned to maximize every minute of the day. I became dependent on the treadmill to track my miles and speed, and the times I attempted to run outdoors, I found I didn’t enjoy it as much because I couldn’t measure my progress. After all, if it couldn’t be measured, did it even count?
Fast forward several years to 30-year-old me, suffocating under the weight of maintaining superwoman status. I now had four children, a full-time career, & a desire to put forth the image of a polished life. Until it became too much. The cracks in my facade seemed fixable at first, that is until I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture which revealed a version of me that was fragmented in so many places, I wasn’t even sure what it felt like to be whole.
Enter: Paradigm shift. It came abruptly, though I argue it had been in the works for a solid few years or more. I found myself a newly single mother of four, and my self-perceived elevated identity was abruptly leveled. I needed to rebuild. During this time, I ran for survival. It was the only way to clear my mind and obtain a beautiful, clear-headed high. I’m not sure when I began venturing outdoors for my runs, but I know it was done in an effort to remove myself from a house full of never ending tasks and chores. The glowing display of the treadmill number count that I once relied on so heavily, now seemed constricting and rigid.
On the trail, I was free. On any given day I was accustomed to my children’s noises wafting throughout the house, ever in need of my attention. In contrast, the only sounds that followed me during runs were those of my shoes hitting pavement and the persistence of my own breath. I took solace in watching the gradual changes of nature that we often take for granted in our daily grind: sunrise & sunset, the subtle change of a season, the constant flow of the river. It dawned on me, after some time, that running is actually a very active form of mediation. It helped me build focus, and I even learned to incorporate affirmations into each mile completed. Which explains why I found daily runs so necessary in terms of creating a sense of balance in my life.
This past year I began running races. I completed my first half marathon in October & found myself with eyes full of tears by the time I reached the finish line. Not out of pain, but out of pride. On a personal level, the timing of the race was symbolic for me, as I had been experiencing one of the most difficult trials in my life one year prior to completing the race. To me, those 13.1 miles were a show a strength. I needed to prove to myself that I could push my limits as a short distance runner, and come out ahead. I wanted to prove to myself that was capable of moving forward. This coming October, I plan on running a full marathon.
Lately, I’ve settled into a very comfortable place in my life, and I believe that my running habit has something to do with that. I feel less driven to compete in ways that make me appear outwardly successful, and more compelled to nurture my spirit & family through means that are not measurable to the outside eye. The tone of my everyday existence is a gentle one, marked with introspection, love, and the well-worn tread of my favorite running shoes.
Running has taught me how to pace myself. It has shown me the capacity of my endurance. It has taught me that no matter how tough I think I am, I need to schedule rest & recoup days. Most importantly, it’s shown me how beautiful solitude can be.
I race myself, and no other.