My Running Journey
When I hit the submit button on my first half-marathon registration, I immediately felt the nerves kick in, but this time there was some excitement, too. I say this time because for the past several years, every run I’ve completed wasn’t for the right reasons. Let’s rewind a little bit.
Growing up, I was never a runner. I vividly remember my parents signing me up for our church’s cross-country team. I attended the first practice, barely made it around the track once and then came home where I proceeded to scream and cry to my mom that I would never ever go back. I absolutely hated running.
I was always just an average athlete and although I played every sport imaginable – basketball, softball, soccer, swimming, tennis, lacrosse, field hockey – I was always more excited for the snack bag at the end of the game than the actual game. I was just okay at sports. Yeah, I could hit the ball, score a basket and catch the ball but I never was a top player.
Throughout my whole childhood, my dad was a runner. He even ran the Boston Marathon when I was in first grade and I remember thinking he was so cool for being completing it, but that still didn’t spark my interest in running. I wanted to continue watching on the sidelines.
When I went to college, I quickly realized that I was going to need to figure out some form of exercise now that the team sports had ended and the college drinking + late night eating had begun. I visited my college’s gym a few times a week only to do a half-assed 30 minutes on the elliptical. So like many college students, I began to gain weight.
It didn’t scare me at first until I realized towards the end of freshman year that I was feeling extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. My body didn’t feel good and I knew that I needed to make a change. I’ll never forget one Sunday (it was cloudy and cold, to be exact) early in my sophomore year that I dusted off my running shoes and headed outside. I covered 4 slow miles, but I did it and I felt so proud of myself that I even texted my dad to tell him.
Over the course of the next few months, my runs went from once every two weeks, to once a week, and eventually I was running two or three days a week. I settled into a route that put me at around 5 miles and genuinely enjoyed these moments that I got to spend with myself. Mix in a few other days of working out and I was feeling pretty good again. Some of the weight started to come off but I was still living my life as a normal college student.
I kept up this routine for another year, sometimes going even farther like 7 or 8 miles, and eventually signing up for my first Broad Street Race in Philadelphia. When I crossed the finish line of my first ever race, I swore I was on cloud 9. It really is true that running is a form of therapy; it had become my stress-reliever and the best way to start my day. For the next few months, I would wake up excited to run, but after a while things took a turn for the worse.
I don’t know what exactly caused the whole situation to go down the way it did, but like with many girls who have suffered from obsessive exercise, I turned running out of joy a few days a week into having to do it at least five days a week, at least 7 miles each time. Did I mention I wasn’t fueling my body properly either? The compliments about my new running body only added fuel to the fire. That’s a story for another day, but those miles were some of the most physically and mentally painful miles I’ve ever ran. And it lasted for over a year.
Eventually the runs got shorter because my legs just couldn’t handle it anymore. I remember laying in bed with the sorest, most strained muscles, not being able to sleep because I was so anxious about running the next day. My legs were just so tired but I couldn’t stop. I ran another race that year only thinking about how much weight I would lose or how many calories I would burn during the race. Most runners fuel themselves before and after, sometimes even during, but that wasn’t an option for me. And the weird thing about it all? I now absolutely hated running now.
I eventually could not physically run anymore, so I turned to the elliptical where my muscles only continued to atrophy. My heart rate dipped down to dangerous levels, my body was begging me to stop. It took one day at a doctors appointment to be told that I wasn’t even stable enough to walk. Yes, to walk. My heart rate was so below the normal resting rate that my cardiologist was afraid that it was going to stop at any minute. I really had no option but to head to the hospital where I would spend the next twelve days allowing my heart to recover.
So I was really left with no choice but to give up exercise. The thing that once provided so much joy turned into one of my biggest demons. Now for anyone who goes from exercising 5 or 6 days a week to nothing, you know that is difficult to do. And it was. It was brutal, actually. All I could think about was exercising. But as time went on, the exercising and running thoughts passed.
I actually gave up most forms of exercise for almost a year. It was a challenging year but I learned so much about myself. I also learned how strong I really am, because although it takes a lot of strength to go out there and run, it takes a hell of a lot more to completely stop when its your form of therapy.
It took a long time, but I’ve now cultivated an amazing relationship with running and I’m so proud of myself for that. I typically run 3 or 4 days a week, and have mixed in different weight classes, plus I always have two rest days. But sometimes I have 7 rest days, and that’s okay too. The hardest thing in the world for me was tuning into my body, but I’ve finally tuned in and I’m listening. I’ve only got one so I want to be it’s friend.