I have always had a love-hate relationship with running. Through my high school years, I was generally considered to be an athlete. I played Varsity basketball and softball, and I was the captain of the Varsity softball team my Junior and Senior years. Prior to high school, I had played basketball and softball as well, so I was very familiar with running as a form of exercise. We ran suicides, sweet sixteens, and countless other drills during every practice. Sometimes our coach would just put thirty minutes on the clock, and as the time ran down, we ran. It was part and parcel with playing basketball and softball, so I never really thought much of it. It certainly wasn’t my favorite part of practice, but being faster helped in the field and on the court, so I ran.
During high school, I ran because it was part of being a good softball or basketball player. After I graduated, I stopped running. It didn’t really seem necessary at that point. I played the occasional game of basketball, and I did play intramural softball all four years that I was in college, but I really didn’t have much of a reason to run anymore. I still exercised regularly, spending thirty minutes to an hour at the gym most days, but I generally spent that time walking or cycling. There was no better way to exercise than to do it while reading a book.
That all changed my Senior year. At that point, I had already been struggling with body image issues for nearly ten years, as so many teenage girls do. I didn’t get the “answer” to my problem until my Senior year, when I was introduced to two major lifestyle changes: running for exercise and maintaining a gluten-free diet. While neither of these habits are bad in themselves, and for many people such habits are actually very healthy, for me, they were a recipe for disaster.
I became obsessed. I counted every calorie I ate, considered the health content of every bite of food that I put in my mouth. I ran as often as I could, dedicating an hour each day to exercise. I ran constantly because I loved how it made me feel- in control, and pretty, and strong. By the time I graduated, I was addicted, and there seemed like there would be no turning back.
At some point during that first year of running, everything changed for me, and I found myself helpless to stop it. I began to hate running. It was just something that I had to do, something to get through before I could go on to the better parts of my day. It was no longer something that I enjoyed doing, and it no longer made me feel in control, pretty, or strong. On the contrary, I had become enslaved to my need to run, and on those days that I could not, I was anxious and touchy. While I continued to receive compliments from passers-by, now they were interspersed with remarks of concern about my health. And my health was definitely failing. I was no longer feeling strong, but incredibly weak.
My time in the convent was exactly what was needed to break the spell, to free me from the chains with which I had bound myself. With someone else determining what I did with the majority of my time, I had to give up running and my meals were prepared for me. In the years that followed, I turned my back on running, afraid that history would repeat itself if I allowed myself to begin again. For the next few years, I adopted the I-only-exercise-when-and-how-I-want method of working out, walking on nearly a daily basis and doing the occasional aerobic or dance workout. Even after John was born, I continued walking, pushing my son along in his stroller, or else enjoying the occasional leisurely evening walk once John had gone to bed.
It was during one of these evening walks that I felt the urge to run again. As I circled our neighborhood pond, I watched several runners as they passed me again and again. I once again had that desire to feel the wind as it whipped past my face, to experience my breaths sink with the movements of my arms and legs, and to have the sweat drip in little rivulets down my back as I pushed myself. And then there was the post-workout shower, the way cool water feels as it pours down, the sense that you’ve really done something to be proud of. I love that feeling; I’ve loved it since the first time I showed up to a basketball practice in seventh grade and learned that the word ‘suicide’ has two very different meanings.
The following evening, I laced up my running sneakers (I guess I’ve always had a subconscious desire to go back to running, since I have always insisted on purchasing sneakers that are classified as running) and slipped my iPhone into my armband. For the first time in years, I set off running, and I felt absolutely fantastic. I ran off and on for a few months before really committing myself to my return to the sport. I signed up for my first 5k, and then I began to actively train.
This new experience of running was incredibly different from my first. In the years that spanned those two experiences, I had learned balance. I had learned that it’s okay to take a few days off, that you can survive without running and still be happy. I didn’t need to run the way I once had. It wasn’t an addiction, but a hobby, a pastime that I enjoyed when time allowed for it. I am a wife and mother now, and my duty to my husband and son come first. Running is something that I can do for myself when time permits, a few times a week once John has already gone to sleep for the night. I can plug in my ear buds, inserting myself into the world of my latest book, and I can just run until I want to stop running. And then I walk until the urge to run overwhelms me again. Some days I push myself; some days I take it easy. Some days I run the entire length of my route; some days I alternate walking and running three or four times before I arrive home. I have balance now. I am in control. And I am happy.
I ran my first 5k this past weekend, and it was the most exhilarating feeling ever. Sure, I was so nervous beforehand that I felt like I might puke at any minute, but once I started running, I realized that there was nothing truly unique about this particular experience. I had run three miles multiple times, and this was no different. And so, with my earbuds plugged in my ears, I began to run. A little under thirty-three minutes later, I crossed the finish line- a personal best for me.
I can now really appreciate running for what it truly is- a hobby, an activity to do for pleasure and to stay healthy. It is not supposed to be an obsession, the top priority on your agenda. Becoming a wife and mother helped me to understand that, and now I don’t live in fear that I will regress, returning to my former ways. Now running is a way to unwind, to relax, to enjoy myself. And because of that, you can be sure that while this might have been my first 5k, it definitely won’t be my last.
Mary Help of Christian, pray for us!