The 3 Things I Get from Running
I began running the half-mile on the track team in Jr. High because I wanted to be seen as someone other than a nerd. You have to be pretty far over on the awkward, introverted scale to view distance running as a path to improve your social standing, but that was me in the 1970s. I was soon popular with other girls who only wanted to sprint because my running the half-mile, the longest event in our Jr. High track meets, meant they didn’t have to.
And by virtue of my skinny frame (I was still waiting to be endowed with any curves) and willpower, I was good. I was good at something other than math tests and English essays. Score! I ran competitively in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. By 12th grade, I had fallen madly in love and developed some hints of curves. No longer needing running for social validation and struggling to equal my PR’s from the previous year, I stopped running track that last year of high school.
Fast forward 6 years — I’ve graduated from college and taken a job at IBM.
“You used to run track?” my co-worker, Joe, asked incredulously.
“Yes. I was actually pretty good.”
He laughed. “I just can’t imagine you running track.”
Ouch. Had I really gotten that out of shape in the 7 years since I ran high school track? I’d gained some weight in college. And I’d had a baby. But I was still a runner, wasn’t I? I mean, I hadn’t had time to run the last couple years with a full-time job and a baby, now toddler.
“Well,” my co-worker said, “why don’t we run the jogging trail at the rec center some night. I’m over there a couple of times a week. Have John watch the baby, and we’ll do a lap. It’s three-quarters of a mile. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
And so, having committed to run the jogging trail and determined to prove myself still a runner, I figured I better prepare. After work, I drove to the rec center with just enough time to run 10–20 minutes before getting my son, David, from daycare. My plan was to run one lap every night for the first week and two laps each night of the second week.
I found something shocking.
Running was really hard. Much harder than when I had started at age 14.
I wasn’t even doing a mile. I was 23 years old.
By Tuesday of the second week, I understood why many people HATE running. My legs felt wooden, and in an age before sports watches, iPhones, iPods, I was bored. I persevered out of stubbornness. Joe would not laugh at the idea of me running.
It took most of a month before I could run 2 miles, and I had to ask my daycare provider, Diana, if she minded keeping my son, David, a bit longer for me each night. As a friend, she did not. She was impressed by my running. At some point, Joe and I did indeed jog around that running path, and he conceded that yes, perhaps he had misjudged me. But I wasn’t finished.
I joined a running club and found some people who ran right after work, which pushed my distances up. I got to the point where people wanted me to run on their team again. I was part of an IBM running group that managed to win second place at an annual Corporate Challenge race.
I felt proud of my running accomplishments — being able to run 7 miles, getting my 5K time below 20 minutes. Yet, I most loved the second thing I get from running…
I noticed that as I ran sadness, discouragement, even anger faded. We would often begin a run complaining about something that had gone wrong in our day. At some point, the conversation would be more running-related, before becoming too tired or out-of-breath to talk.
At the end of each run, I would feel better, more optimistic, and calmer.
One day, Diana’s son, Matt, age 5, asked, “Why does David’s mommy always come so late?”
Diana replied that “David’s mommy goes running after work.”
Diana explained that David’s mommy found she was more cheerful and relaxed after going for a run. Taking time to run, helped David’s mommy to be a good mommy when they got home.
“Oh,” Matt replied and eyed his mother suspiciously, the unasked question of why didn’t she run, very clearly on his face.
One of my running buddies described how running helped him during some dark times in his life. “At the end of the run,” he said, “my problems are all still there, but they feel different. They feel….” he searched for the right words, “they feel almost like they were someone else’s problems.”
Yes, that’s it.
Today, with headlines highlighting how many people have died each day, I once again crave the calm that running brings.
I’m no longer surprised about how hard running is. Now, I more marvel that I ever found it easy. The idea that once I could run an 8-minute-per-mile pace and carry on a conversation at the same time astounds me. I’m struggling again to make a 2-mile run a casual and regular task at any speed.
My kids have grown. David now has a son of his own. I’m a Grandma.
With my husband and I both working from home. I, once again, have a ‘co-worker’ who is interested in going running after work. Having a regular running buddy has always been key to me running regularly. My husband runs despite arthritic knees that most doctors would recommend replacing. If he can do it, I can too.
Joy from running is fleeting yet amazing. Sometimes joy comes in the early steps of a run if I still have a spring in my step. The feeling of gliding along smoothly. It is fun to go faster, to speed down a hill, to jump over a puddle, to share a run with a friend. Joy is part of running also. But it often takes work to get in shape enough to feel that joy.
Despite the benefits, I have fallen out of the running habit and out-of-shape many times over the years.
Why? Why are there so many gaps between the times that I run regularly?
Knee was bothering me, so I thought I’d take a break.
Changed jobs and no longer having anyone to run with.
Strained this muscle and got out of the habit, and now I just haven’t gotten back to it.
Work has been busy.
The holidays are always busy and the days are so short. I’ll start again next year.
No place to run in the winter, and the treadmill is too boring.
Had to stop for foot surgery.
Just got out of the habit.
I guess the truth is simple. To feel proud, to feel calm, to find joy in running requires effort and maybe a dash of discipline. I’ve enjoyed listing the rewards of running because it motivates me to do the work that is needed to feel those rewards.
I’m a galloping Grandma, once again tracking my weekly mileage. I just did 3 miles without walking, for the first time in…. a while. Yesterday I jogged down a wooded path, one I hadn’t run before and felt the joy of exploration. I grew tired sooner than I would have hoped and walked and let the calm wash over me.