“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further, past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known.” ~ Rex Pace
Running has been a friend of mine since I was about 12 years old. I originally took to running to “burn calories.” I wanted to achieve some sort of teen-tastic, unrealistic image of what I was supposed to look like.
I was a 90-something-pound teenager with all sorts of destructive disordered eating habits. I remember hoping I could drop into the 80-something-pound range. Previously, I was a much heavier child – if not obese, then definitely on the line. I took to starving myself to drop weight. It worked.
The school nurse called my mom to express concerns regarding how much weight I had lost. My friends tried to pressure me to eat. If they ever succeeded, I would then dutifully “purge” it.
None of that well-meaning peer pressure made an impact on my quest to get as thin as I could.
But, running–a good friend from the start–made clear that if I wanted to continue our relationship, I was going to need to eat something.I was able to find empowerment through movement – and that focused me. Had the wisdom of running not re-directed me, I feel certain my intention on weight dipping would have continued unchecked.
After I entered high school, I joined the crew team. Every practice began (and sometimes also ended) with a run.
While others sometimes bemoaned our runs as “punishment,” I never felt that way.
I. Loved. Running.
Over time, I came to love running (and crew) more than I feared being “fat”. I felt better counting miles than I ever did counting calories I realized that I couldn’t keep up with running as my buddy if I didn’t eat. Then, I began to eat more, so that running and I could hang out more.
I look back at that time and I feel certain that running and crew very likely saved my life–or at least saved me from some very serious health consequences–both physical and psychological. It gave me strength–and not just the physical kind.
Today, running hasn’t completely saved me from my bad habits. Left to my own devices, I will sometimes play the “calorie-purge game.” But, those episodes get fewer and fewer–such that right now, I can’t remember the last one. Mostly, my good friend running (plus mental work) keeps me focused on being healthy.
Since those early teen years, running has remained a good friend – through my abusive college years, when I would put pretty much anything in my body (I’m not proud of it – just keeping it real). Through all of that, I still woke up and went for a run. Albeit, a horrible feeling run. After a few years of that sort of abuse, running reminded me that we couldn’t continue to be friends if I didn’t switch tracks back to a healthier living approach.
Again, running focused me.
Before my coach Steve died this year, we had a conversation about why I love to run. I think he was trying to understand what motivated me to run, so he could see if there was a way to parlay some of that love to the bike. Sneaky. 😉
I explained to him that I can really “be” somewhere when I run. I feel the ground, all of the muscles in the body – it’s delicious. I’m not reliant on anything – just me. I put my hat on, my sneaks, and I feel like I’m doing what my body is supposed to do.
It’s so simple–yet deeply fulfilling.
Steve asked me if I liked running because it came “easy” to me. Quite the contrary! I don’t find running easy or effortless at all. In fact, it’s very challenging, which is another thing I like about it. Sure, some days feel great, just like my legs are taking my body for a ride – but some days definitely don’t feel great – or even good. I like both kinds of days.
A bad day running is still better than any day of not running.
When I run, my body image distortion goes away. In fact, I don’t even care what I look like. Instead, I feel my body for its function and it feels liberating to be in that sort of head space. I don’t feel fat, or worry about looking fat (until I see race photos!). My legs and ass have a very distinct purpose–and it doesn’t matter that they aren’t matching stick thin ideals that I had when I was a teen.
Being short doesn’t feel like a limiter when I run. Instead, I am a stealth ninja. Okay, at least in my head I am a stealth ninja. Those of you who know me wouldn’t exactly describe me as possessing the grace of a ninja, but it’s all about how it makes me feel.
When I run in the woods, I feel AH-MAZE-ING. There is nothing in the athletic world that I love more than running in the woods, on a gnarly trail with lots of twists, my upper body balances one way, while my legs fly out behind me. I’m like Woody the Wabbit sailing through. I love the pump-pump-pump of a quick descent, or the steady-diesel-get-it of a nice long climb.
On the technical trails of the mountains – where it feels so scary to be thousands of feet in the sky – it’s an exhilarating feeling of being alive, of living life — especially once I make it safely back down to the base ;-).
Beyond all of the above: Running has been with me through my life. I can think. I can work through problems. I work through frustration in running. Some people do that on the toilet. I do it on the road.
So, that’s why I run all of those miles.