The end of 2016 and the winter of 2017 were really, really rough months for me. Many things in my psyche—my way of seeing myself, my belief in myself as a good, decent person, my faith in my ability to be a good mom—were altered in irreparable ways. My relationship with many things changed, and I am still, more than a year later, sorting through the damage from those months.
One of the things that changed was my relationship with running. Looking back at 2017, I can see why I struggled with my weight (other than the drinking of too many comfort beverages and absolutely no limits on my chocolate consumption): I was running, sure. I was running because I know how not running makes coping even more difficult for me. But I was barely running enough. Sometimes I’d go entire weeks without exercising, even in the summer. I didn’t really fall out of love with running, but for most of last year, going for a run felt more like medication than meditative movement. Running was one of the things that got me through, but I couldn’t yet feel any real sense of joy in it (or anything, really).
So here I am, two weeks into my goal of running at least twelve miles a week for five weeks. My legs are clearly readjusting…my right hamstring is so tight and my left popliteus is struggling a bit. My hips are a little bit achy and my plantar fascia is twingy. But I still finished week two with 13.2 miles.
On Thursday, I needed to go to Provo to visit my mom at the hospital. So I decided to stop at a trailhead on the river parkway and run there.
The Provo River Trail is about 15 miles long, and it runs from Vivian Park in Provo Canyon all the way down to Utah Lake. I do a lot of runs on the north part of the trail in the canyon, but fewer on this south part, and the trailhead where I parked is the spot where I usually turn around. So my run that day was on a part of the trail I’ve only run on once before (when I did the Provo City Half Marathon). This section runs behind houses and through fields, and all of it is surrounded with trees. There were ducks in the water, and a few fishermen; it was cloudy but not unbearably cold (once I started I was glad I wore a short skirt instead of capris). I kept my headphone out on the river-facing side of my face, so I could hear my music and the sound of the water.
I only went a bit more than three miles on that run. But when I finished and was stretching on the grassy spot near the parking lot, I felt like dancing. Because it all came rushing over me: the love of running. The feel of being outside and moving my body through the world. The mountains in the distance and the singing of the river and my tired legs. Tired in a good way; tired after working hard. I did my backwards half-moon yoga stretch and looked at the sky through the tangle of trees and I just…I filled up again with how much I love running.
I remembered: it’s not only for the therapy. It’s not only for keeping the darkness at the edges. It’s not only medicine. It is also joy at being here, right now, in this body, in this place, on this earth with this life. With my beating heart and my pulsing lungs and my tired, happy legs.
I love running because it is the thing that makes me feel most alive.
When I got to the hospital, the first thing my mom said was “I’d really like a hug from my girl.”
“OK,” I said, “but I have to warn you, I might be smelly.” She didn’t care, though. She wanted a hug, so I hugged her. This is great news, as she has been so ill for the last two months that even just interacting seems problematic. That day she, too, seemed more alive. More joyful. I sat down on the chair next to her bed and started talking, and eventually our conversation turned to running.
“I’m so glad you keep up with running,” she said. “When you are my age you’ll be much healthier for it. Plus you are strong and amazing.” (Maybe she had more pain meds in her system than I knew about!)
And that is goal: to keep up with running. To never lose my love of it, to never break up. Sure: I might get slower. I might walk more than I run as I get older. It might sometimes feel less joyous than usual. But I’m committed.
I’m in it for the long haul.