When I reach the third mile of a run, that’s when it happens. My body hits another gear. Thoughts are clearer and emotions are muted. Time clicks away with serenity. Running becomes something more than just exercise. It’s a space for reflection, dreams, and determination.
Three years ago, after I quit my job at Oregon State University, I decided to go for a run. I mapped out a 3 mile course, put on my sneakers, and trotted out the door. So many of my friends had told me about how much they loved to run. I figured, how hard can it be? The first mile was extremely difficult. My lungs were on fire and my legs were already fatigued. I ended up walking the remaining 2 miles back to my apartment. I was not a runner. But I am fairly stubborn. Determined to try running again, I went out to do the same 3 mile loop after giving my legs a couple of days rest. Again, it was so hard. My lungs rebelled and my legs were sore. But I made it a little bit further before I had to start walking. There was a glimmer of progress.
Growing up in Iowa and doing a lot of manual labor instilled a work ethic inside of me that still prevails to this day. Knowing that sometimes it takes a lot of hard work for incremental gain, I attempted to rationalize that running might be hell now, but it could be good if I kept working. A month went by and I was able to slowly run for 3 miles without stopping. It was a lot of work. There was a lot of heavy breathing and self-doubt. I wasn’t a runner yet, but I was trying.
When I moved to Boston in 2011, I got into a regular groove of running. From three miles to five and then finally I made it to eight miles per run. It was something that I never expected to be able to do. No one in my family ran for exercise. In fact, my mom always told me that running was akin to a four-letter swear word. We didn’t run. And then I found myself piling on the miles. Sharing stories with other runners and actually understanding why they, why we did it. Sure, it was about fitness and exercise, but it has always been about something else.
In December of last year, I injured the heel in my left foot. My doctor told me that the only way to heal my heel was to rest it for as long as possible. I went from running every other day to not being able to run. Heck, even walking was painful. From December to the beginning of April, I did not run. My head felt foggy and I gained a lot of weight. I didn’t care about my diet as much and I didn’t sleep very well. The absence of running had quite the impact on me.
In mid-April, I went back to see my doctor. I told him that I was going to start running again. His advice was to stretch as much as possible and listen to my body. My body, as I told him, was telling me to get my ass off the couch and go for a run.
My first run in April was near the end of the month and I went for more than 4 miles. It was glorious…and painful. My mind didn’t recognize my body. It was like two strangers trying to have a conversation while moving on a conveyor belt. I ended up running a total of 11 miles in April. It wasn’t a lot, but it felt good to get out and about.
Running has been a barometer into my psyche. For those of you who know me, the more miles I run, the more I’m trying to work on something. I ran 40 or more miles each month from September to December in 2012. This year, I ran 48 miles in May and I’m already close to 60 miles for July. The miles have so much meaning.
For me, and I expect for a lot of people, it’s not about running. It’s about the shared camaraderie with other runners. It’s about the catharsis that takes place…the so-called “runners high.” When I’m upset or stressed, running clears my head and mollifies my heart. Running connects me to myself. You have to listen to your body when you’re running. Your gait matters. Pacing is important. Hydration is always on the internal checklist. And, I’ve found that I am extremely prolific when it comes to creating blog post ideas when I’m running. Editing and writing in my head…it’s exhilarating.
When I’m feeling slow or that I can’t go any more, I always cycle through my heroes. I hear my Grandpa Clyde telling me that nobody ever did anything by talking about it. I think about my Godfather and how he showed me that running could be “cool.” I remember my Grandma Katie and her struggle with multiple sclerosis and how even with replacement knees, she was still so active and tough…right until she passed away. Heroes keep me going because I know that running is mostly a mental game. My body always has extra juice left in the tank. My mind is where the battle for distance is won. It’s about willpower and the understanding that I can do it if I really want to.
When I started running in 2010, I listened to music as a way to keep pace and to occupy my mind. Eventually, I started to run without headphones/music. I could hear my footfalls and hear what was going around me. But, more importantly, it gave me access to hearing my own thoughts in a way that I had been missing. My ability to run further and faster is a result of this enhanced connection between my mind and body.
Recently, I signed up for three 5K races. At this point, I can run a 5K without a lot of effort. I love the vibe of a 5K. Everyone is smiling and you know that you’re part of a wonderful community of runners. Our reasons for running might be different, but we’re all out there, ready for the start and eager to finish.
Yesterday, I registered for the Portland Marathon in October. Am I nervous? Absolutely. I’ve never done this before. 26.2 miles is a long distance. According to my mom, I will be the first person in my family to run a marathon. My running schedule is going to shift into a space where it’s never been. More miles will be added. My body will definitely have some questions. New shoes will be tried out and nutrition will be extremely important. I have a lot of friends in Portland and in Oregon. I’ll have fans and friends cheering me on. It’s going to be an emotionally charged experience. The mental toll will be just as great as the physical one. I’ve always been fearless about taking leaps and daring greatly. I sometimes fall, but I always find a way to get back up. Running a marathon is something that has been on my to-do list for quite a while. I can’t wait. See you in October.