I run because it makes me a nicer person. It’s a wonderful investment in my personality. But that’s not how it started.
Two summers ago I began a sloppy, embarrassing version of “running” thinking it would help me lose a little weight. I have been trying to “lose a little weight” since I was twelve years old. I also had a deep, urgent yearning to reconnect with my oldest daughter who was a cross country runner, almost seventeen at the time, and living with her dad. I thought for about ten minutes that running would be the magic pill for our relationship. Not that we ever ran together; I just thought, in fuzzy mama’s-heart impressions, If I start running maybe I will understand her better. And though she is living across town without me, she will instinctively sense that her Mom is running too and loves her so much and would do anything for her and please God just bring her home to me!
Well, I didn’t lose much weight, because I continued eating pasta and homemade bread and cookies with abandon because I love to cook and our family and friends don’t mind it either. And I also didn’t immediately reconnect with my beautiful girl, because it turns out God had lots more important lessons for me to learn first. But I did get hooked on something that changed my life for the better. And now I am a runner. This is kind of how it went down.
That first messy run was early one June morning in the back field of our farm. We had a few nieces and nephews staying with us for about a week and one of the cuties, Matthew, also happened to be a cross country runner. He and I were supposed to do some laps together so he could stay in shape during summer vacation and I could jump start my new fitness adventure. I was open to taking pointers from him for sure. After less than one lap he felt super sorry for his old Auntie Marie. Like, instead of giving me pointers he was checking to see if I was okay. After less than a quarter mile I was red faced, wheezing, panting, and on the brink of tears. A sight to behold, you guys.
That first experience was so humbling that it’s pretty amazing that I ever tried a second time. But something vaguely familiar and wonderful had sparked inside me and I just wanted to run again. And again. And again. I was gradually able to run a full mile and still carry on a conversation. Then I could easily run a couple miles at a time, though it still required Herculean effort.
Somewhere along the way I decided to run my first 5k in public, which was total freak out material for me because hitherto I had only run privately, here at the farm. But I gathered lots of support from friends and family and had so much fun! It was one of those super cool Zombie 5k events, so running from crazy strangers dressed as zombies was very motivational. Even non-runners enjoy these silly events! So we had fun; but more importantly that experience proved to me that I could in fact run in front of people and not die from embarrassment. So what was next? I signed up for the Oklahoma City Memorial Race to Remember and in April of 2013 I ran my first half marathon. BAM. Addicted.
Over the course of those months training for the half marathon, the act of running quickly became my emotional release. I felt tension fall away with every mile. I discovered that while running I could organize my thoughts and tap into a deep river of imagination. Sometimes I even prayed, which because of bitterness over painful life events I had nearly stopped doing. I noticed that after running I felt both wildly inspired and sharply focused. Running, for all of its physical energy expense, became my favorite battery recharger. It actually seemed to give me more energy. I slept better. I was calmer. I was overall a more pleasant person. And, unlike exercising with a Jillian Michaels video, I could do it without learning how to operate our super complicated big screen television and DVD player. Fresh air, no electronics except my excellent music, and time alone to just let loose.
It all felt a lot like childhood, really. I was slowly regaining myself.
Fast forward to about a week ago. I was having dinner with our dear friend Marci. She and my husband both hate to run and, while they are both sweetly supportive of me, simply don’t get it. That day I had just enjoyed six particularly refreshing miles (now just a nice warm up for me) and was blabbering on about it. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “But don’t you just hate every minute of it?” I laughed so hard, and it took me a moment to realize she was serious. I had to remember that until I fell in love with running I too hated it. Not much middle ground here: either you love it or you hate it. Honestly, I used to see runners at the park and assumed they were either training for the Olympics or had an eating disorder and were punishing themselves for something they had eaten. It never occurred to me that they were truly blissed out, just escaping and recharging with sweat and rhythm.
So far I have barely found the right words to express to my loved ones how good this habit is for me. But I will say that my husband notices a difference in my personality when I run several times a week, so much so that when life gets too busy he always finds ways to make room for it again. When I’m cranky or restless or sad he gently encourages me to go for a run, and that speaks volumes. I appreciate that so much.
Now, less than two years after that first awful lap around our sticker-ridden back field, I am training for my first full marathon. At age forty I will run 26.2 miles in Oklahoma City to honor my mother- and father- in law, who as police officers, both worked tirelessly to identify and lay to rest the victims of the 1995 Murrah Building Bombing. To me there is not a more worthy race to run and I will be honored to wear their names on my shirt.
Also, I have now learned how to eat more healthfully and, combined with marathon training, this has helped me to slim down a bit. So that’s nice. A twenty-seven year old goal is finally being met. I have also remembered how to set goals and chip away at them. And I have seen that my body is more powerful than I ever believed. All of this is great.
But the best news of all is that I am reconnecting with my firstborn. It hasn’t happened in the mind-meld-via-running way I first imagined it would; but running has played a part. It has been during these many hours of active solitude that I have squeezed out the anger and bitterness that had kept me wound so tight. I have learned how to channel my energies more positively and release more emotion upward to God rather than outward toward people. I just became a happier, nicer person, more receptive to good things. My relationships are all improving. Bigger life changes now seem possible because I never once died from embarrassment while running in public. Of course my outlook isn’t hurt by my jeans gradually fitting better.
So. I have joined the ranks of people who are addicted to the feeling of running, that healthy, reliable high. I miraculously belong to that group of people who are fine with not being light speed because instead we are just plain happy to run. I am convinced that we all are capable of far more than we once believed and that good things, amazing things, are in store for us. Especially if we run towards them.