Yesterday, I ran a 5k with a friend, and it got me thinking about the way my relationship with running has changed recently. What started off as something that kept me from accepting myself has turned into an activity that helps me participate in my life more fully and connect with others.
When I was a teenager, my brother got me interested in running. I didn't take it seriously, usually only running for about a mile at a time and only in the summer months. In college, I didn't run very much because I was busy juggling school, work, and friends, but I always thought I should run more. After college, though, I started running regularly, gradually working on running longer distances. I worked up to running 3 miles (5k) and eventually 5 miles (8k). I even ran a couple races.
In all these early years, even though I knew I was doing something good for my body, my relationship with running was not particularly good for my body image. My thinking was, "I want to be skinny. Running will get me skinny." I hated running aside from the hope that one day it would make me "skinny." Well, I never did get skinny, and the devastation of not living up to that unrealistic goal fueled my dedication to running. The more I felt disappointed in myself, the more I ran, and the more I ran, the higher the expectations became. Participating in races was kind of fun, but mostly it was just tense because I felt like the slowest person there. Overall, running was about hating myself and others (for being better than me) and being out of touch with everything around me.
After being a runner in one capacity or another for several years, I woke up to what it was doing to me emotionally, and I stopped running for about 5 years. It was a great 5 years. I focused on exercising in a way that allowed me to respect my body and not compare myself against others too much. I literally slowed down. I paid more attention to my body and to my surroundings, including the people I exercised with. I tried a variety of activities and learned a lot more about health and fitness than I ever did running on a treadmill mile after mile.
Then, in November, I suddenly felt like running. And so I did.
I saw a friend of mine out for a jog in our neighborhood, and I felt pride for her. I didn't compare myself to her, judge her, or think, "Boy am I glad I'm not doing that." I didn't know it at the time, but I think watching her run struck me suddenly as being utilitarian--using something that she already had that was essentially free and using all of it. It just seemed so simple, and I thought I'd give running a second chance.
This time around, it hasn't been about any particular goal. I run because I genuinely want to, because it feels good. The result has been that I'm more in touch with the earth, with fellow runners, with my fears, and with my body. Running used to be a symptom that I was out of control; now it helps me to be in control. Fear is less of an issue because I have respect for myself. I can more easily accept who I am, and I also accept and care for others more instinctively. Yesterday, during the race, some people near me tripped a little. In the past, I might have just kept going without much thought, but this time, I actually paused and made sure they were okay before continuing. Running is a great way to participate in charity events and explore new landscapes as well.
I know for a lot of people running certainly does not feel good, so I would never say that everyone should do it, but I do think it's important to use up what we have physically, mentally, and emotionally, so we know what we're capable of as individuals and as a whole. When there is a challenge, there is a potential for community and understanding.
[The above photo was taken before the race. This was my fundraising team, and we raised $3,000 for Camp Okizu--a camp for kids with cancer and their families. Because of the 6 of us, 2 more kids will get to go to this great place.]