I found running in an unfamiliar place. For me it was an escape from reality, but above all it was a competition I knew I could win when I felt too much defeat in other areas of my life.
I started running on a treadmill in the corner of the gym where no one could see me. I would run for 25 minutes, step off my treadmill, and leave. My runs averaged at 5.6mph. Nothing extraordinary.
Gradually I became better and started running with the crowd, so to speak. Each day I pressed myself to run harder, faster, and longer than everyone around me. It became a game. I counted the girls who started and left before me. I scoffed at the guys who would run at a fancy, fast 7+ mph for a pathetic duration of ten minutes. I beat them. It was a race inside my head and I knew I was winning.
I did not have limits, I had goals that I would surpass every time I stepped onto my treadmill. Eventually I moved and began running outside instead of at the gym. I was able to plug in even more mileage running out in the fresh open air. I found an opportunity to run on the cross country team at my university. The idea of truly competing was too good to pass up.
I timed my runs and discovered that I could make varsity. But varsity was not enough. I wanted to be number one. Before the season had even started, I slaved away everyday beating the minimum time required to race at the varsity level.
The competition I placed before myself was harsh and dangerous, but I never would have accepted that at the time. To me, my training never felt adequate. I became paranoid about not running fast or far enough. I became nervous that my lack of precision when timing myself would mean that I would be less than prepared for what was to come.
In a way I was right. I was not prepared for what was to come. I remember the sunny, warm afternoon clearly. I sat down in my car, shifted my leg from the break to the accelerator and a searing pain came over me. It was like nothing I had ever felt. I turned my car off, moved my leg and the pain jolted through me again. Neither I, my physical therapist, or my doctor could locate the pain to determine what exactly had happened to my hip. It was a very deep set injury that would prevent me from joining cross country and that would not heal for another two years. I would later discover that it was a simple injury to my hip flexor, nothing more, and the only implications of my injury were that I needed to rest for a few months.
A few months turned into a couple years and that was my fault. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t rest. Running was my only outlet and I did not know how to deal with anything without it. I would rest for a month, decide on a spur of the moment that I had rested long enough and proceed to go on a six mile hill run. The time it took for my body to heal was aggravatingly slow.
I came to understand the importance of knowing my body’s limits. In order to reap the benefits of my body’s strength, I needed to have patience in my body’s natural healing process. It was also critical for me to recognize that for everyone this process is different. Finally in running, I took the time to learn my body’s own healing process.
3. Appreciation of your Achievements
When I finally decided to let my body heal, running turned from an escape to a way for me to come to terms with the uncertainty that surrounded me and the barriers that challenged me. I was able to love my body for what it was and appreciate myself for each of my accomplishments at every level no matter how small. I did not need to run for a certain length of time or at a certain speed to feel achievement.
When I was training for cross country, my body became so worn down that runs were no longer enjoyable for me. After my runs, rather than feeling a healthy soreness, I was left feeling overly fatigued and weak for the remainder of the day.
Instead of loving my body for what it could do, I hated it for not doing more.
In the words of running advocate John Bingham: “You need to honor what you’ve accomplished, rather than thinking of what’s left to be done.”
4. Be Your Own Best Coach
Sometimes a little friendly competition can be rewarding, but at the end of the day I learned that my runs were for me and for my happiness. My happiness did not need to be dictated by skewed standards of success set by no one other than myself. Running is not school and running is not a career-there do not need to be rules–just guidelines if that. If I want to achieve a certain level of fitness, I will commit to running a certain number of days out of the week with a healthy meal plan that gives me enough room to indulge. I will not however, set a strict pace, distance, and time for my run every day. Setting guidelines allowed me to become more familiar with my body. I was able to recognize when my body had been pushed enough. I also became comfortable saying to myself “I know I can run farther, but this has been a good run, my body feels challenged but not overly burnt out so I will stop running at Point A and commit to running tomorrow also.” Sometimes I still have days where I run down the street for no longer than 10 minutes during which I decide my body just needs an extra day of rest-and that is okay.
To this day, I swear I could practically get high off the feeling of running through a beautiful landscape and inhaling the crisp morning air. Running has taught me to respect my body (hence my decision to become vegan) and to respect the world around me. The natural environment contributes in part to what makes running feel so fulfilling. There is a pleasant familiarity with the smell of summer barbecue, the winter fire’s chimney smoke, the sight of the setting fall sun that casts black silhouettes on the trees, and of course the vibrant colors of spring. Running has taught me to pay more attention to my surroundings and has helped me develop a deep respect for the beauty of our natural environment.
6. The Power in a Smile
One of the many rewarding aspects of running is its social nature. On my runs I receive so many kind greetings from complete strangers, sometimes even words of encouragement from other runners out enjoying (or fighting) the weather. Smiling is contagious and sometimes it can become the motivation to run at a faster pace or plug in that extra mile.