By Jenn Carreto
I’ll be running my first half marathon on Sun., Dec. 1st. Many people have asked me why I’m running. More often this question comes in the form of a loving “What’s wrong with you?” Or, the more gentle “Why in the world would you sign up for that torture?”
It’s true; I’m essentially running in a big circle. Yes, I’m paying to run on streets that, on any other day, are free and public space. Yet, still, I run (or jog, really–let’s be honest).
But I see where you’re coming from. And you’re right, if I’m inviting you to come brave the mob of downtown and celebrate with me, then you do deserve an explanation! Or at least some context.
I’ve tried this whole thing before, you see. About four years ago, I was getting bored. At the time, I thought it was with my workout routine. If you’re like me, you work out (or play sports or dance) to unwind, have some fun and generally relieve stress. But suddenly, my usual circuit wasn’t working. I was still wound up when leaving the gym, still not sleeping well, still generally antsy.
What better way to break the boredom than a shiny new challenge, I thought. And so, never really having run before, I found myself a month-long half-marathon training calendar online. I could wholeheartedly pour myself into this new thing and then, after a short time, all would be well again. Right? Riiiiiiight.
For the first couple weeks, it did work. But surprise, surprise, in week 3, the boredom returned. Hey, these runs were long. And Seattle has some serious hills. So, I started skipping the mid-week 3 or 4 mile runs. Then, I stopped stretching or working out on cardio days. It’s the distance that counts anyway, right? As long as I achieve the desired end, does it really matter how I do it?
I got my answer the morning after my first 8-mile run. That’s when I woke up, and I couldn’t walk. Sure, I noticed a foot cramp in the runs before, but I did what I always did, ignored it and powered through. And it went away. This time it stuck with me a couple of mornings. But by then, it was the holiday season, which offered the perfect excuse to just set aside the whole half-marathon idea anyway.
What I couldn’t set aside was the foot pain. After four months of “ignoring it and powering through,” I could barely put any weight on my right foot. I couldn’t bike, dance or even walk without pain. I developed a consistent limp. I tried special insoles, pain meds –nothing helped. All the while, I gained weight and thought about all those days when I could just wake up and walk, without giving it a second thought.
When you have limited physical mobility, often, it’s just you and your thoughts. This time, I couldn’t run from the boredom. It was right there with all the anger, shame and frustration I felt. At my wits end, I started physical therapy. As my doctor went through the litany of exercises and strength-building tasks he envisioned for me over the next 3 months, he must have seen me roll my eyes. I know this because he said, “This isn’t going to be a quick fix. The earlier you can get used to that idea, the better.” That hit a sore spot, so of course, I wrote him off.
But out of sheer desperation, I finally gave in. I didn’t believe for a second that it would work, but I followed through anyway. After all, I’d tried everything else.
Fast forward four years, and not only am I walking without pain, but I’m 40 pounds lighter and averaging a 9 min 13 sec mile. (Woo hoo!!)
I look back on that injury, and even further into the past, and it becomes obvious how my “ignore it and power through” mentality has shaped me throughout life. True, as a kid growing up amid physical abuse and poverty, this tactic was helpful, even necessary to survive. But once I left home, it morphed into a perpetual desire to run away. Sure, I did it through travel, random adventures or “good opportunities”, so people hardly noticed. But I was also doing this with relationships and commitments, leaving or flaking out when things got too intense or demanding, never staying in one place long enough to really be known by others.
In getting ready for Dec. 1st (a mental and emotional process that really started in those physical therapy sessions years ago), I’ve come to face the challenge and beauty of true presence. When running, my mind–with all its thoughts about what could be, how much “greener” the grass over there surely is, all its fears of how I should be more this or that—are forced to take a back seat. My body gets to call the shots, and I have no other choice but to be with what’s right in front of me.
I can hardly put into words how this embracing of “being in the moment” (as cheesy as it sounds) and how the relinquishing of “survival mode” has brought me into a healthy and respectful relationship with body and self-image. More importantly, off the trail, my mind and heart have been healed in ways I never would have expected.
True presence brings deep freedom. I’m no longer “on the run” – from my body, my past or other people. And on Dec. 1st, I’m going to run (ahem, jog), 13.1 miles to celebrate that.