The Alchemy of Running

runningI blame my stepfather for my running habit. He got me started early, perfectly timed to a life stage change so I forever associate running with growth and transition.

In fifth grade, every other day, we would run 2.54 miles together. The loop ended with a killer hill whose every incline I can still recall stride by stride. We didn’t talk, just huffed along. He’d run whatever pace I set, but strictly forbade walking. When judged ready, he entered me in a 5 mile fun run. Though twice the distance my young legs had ever carried me, I never walked on that course. I bounced along at a slow pace, my stepdad keeping silent step next to me.

I finished the race, rapture overcoming exhaustion as I passed under the finish line arch. The race organizers told me that at 11-years-old, I was the youngest person to finish. On the walk backed to the car, I puked in the bushes by the bank. I felt like a champion.

Running taught me: Your mind lies to you. You have strength you don’t even know about.

Those first runs propelled me through the transition from child to sentient adolescent. I have will. I exert my will in the world. I get myself from A to B.

My running habit comes back to be strong in times of transition. When I was assaulted just a few weeks after my 21st birthday, my emotional recovery came in the form 13 mile runs I took every other day down a straight, endless road in the middle of Missouri farmland, the cows cooing encouragement.

IMG_5929Every heartache or breakup may be connected to an intense period of running. Every move finds me learning my new surroundings on pounding feet. When I start a company, I run more for clarity. When I end a company, I run more for clarity. You’ll survive this. You have strength you don’t even know about. Recently divorced? Get running. Run until you’re so tired your brain can only focus on breathing, on stable contact with the ground. Recently married? Celebrate by running, transforming soft into firm and worn into new.

I have lost running many times. I stopped running my freshman year in high school, when my fast legs propelled me to state championships in the mile. My coach took this as a sign that it was his mission to work me as his prize. Expectations and requirements I never agreed to squeezed all the peace and joy out of my runs. The only control I could exercise was to quit, so I did. I have will. I exert my will in the world.

Later in life, happily running again, the doctors that be decided surgery was the best way to rid my body of wayward tissues. I learned the hard way that surgery begets surgery begets surgery. What started as a minor procedure to remove a tiny ball of benign cells built into true crisis, culminating in the removal of my abdominal muscles on my right side. That took me out of the running game for awhile.

Winter can throw me off, so can plantar fasciitis or moody depressions. It’s too cold. I have no energy. I’m too fat. My shoes are ugly. I’m ugly.

The blow to the ego when I lose one of my defining traits presents a formidable challenge to overcome. Beginning again is always difficult. I start those first few runs sneering at my pace, the distance I can manage. Champion? More like chump. It’s not as though once I go on that first run, the drought is broken and it becomes easy again. No, I must drag myself bodily out on each and every run.

IMG_5861I do things to trick myself into running, like getting on my running clothes but telling myself it’s only because they’re comfortable and I’m working from home today. I lace up my running shoes and go outside, but only to walk to the coffee shop. Oh, we made it to the sidewalk in all our running gear. Hey, how about trying out a couple strides. Oh look, running is happening!

Experience has taught me that if I can force myself through those first two weeks of acclimation runs, momentum takes over. The inverse effect occurs where if I don’t run, I start to get antsy and cranky. I’m a runner again.

I’m a runner right now. Something will come along eventually to knock me out of it, I’m certain. That’s okay. I’ll start all over again, building those first steps into first miles. 14-minute-per-mile slogs will whittle down to 7-minute-mile sprints. For now, I slow down my days by going fast. I suck air into stretched lungs. My muscles burn and purr. My mantra repeating in my mind. I have will. I assert my will in this world.

Use your words. Comment here.