I think most women will relate to this. The feeling of inadequacy when you see your body and see what it can do versus what you wish it could do. The feeling of knowing, logically, that you are enough, you are more than your body, and your body is perfectly good, and yet constantly battling yourself to somehow be different.
The feeling of straddling two different realities, one in which you're confident and comfortable in who you are, and the other in which your flaws seem insurmountable.
The moment I decided to pick up running, I was fighting this battle in my head. I was 22 and in graduate school, earning my Masters of Education. I had never felt more confident or more lost. Every day was shrouded in contradictions.
Being "old" on a college campus is daunting. You are surrounded by 18-year-olds who are so much more fit, fashionable, and fiery than you were at 18. How do they keep their hair so shiny? How do they make jeans and a t-shirt look so chic? I was there, a student myself, and so I belonged...and yet, there was a huge divide that made me self-conscious and defensive.
|A picture of my cohort and our professors at the end of our program.
On campus, I saw young women running effortlessly along shadow-dappled sidewalks and I thought: If I could run outside, I would be more like them.
And so I started. It was not easy. It was partially for the wrong reasons I've already explained and partially for the right ones: health, stress-relief, a need to challenge myself. In the end, those reasons were mine, and that's what matters. They are what drove me to take on something I thought I could never do...and if I did it, that I could never do well, or enjoy doing.
And yet, there I was. Learning to run.
|Snapshots of 2009
When did running go from something that I was trying to use to become someone else to something I needed in my life in order to be myself?
How did that transformation happen?
I think it was a race.
When I first started running, I didn't know road races existed. I just thought people ran for exercise and races were reserved for organized school sports and the Olympics. So when a colleague of mine who had run in high school and knew more on the subject than I did recommended we sign up for a local running club (those existed?!) and a 5k (a real one?!) I was intrigued and immediately interested.
(Okay, wait. My first race was actually a 5k put on by a local church to raise money for relief after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But that "race" wasn't really open to the public and was untimed and low-stress. I ran it without training; I ran it like I'd run any other run. It doesn't seem to count these days. Plus, I wore cut-off sweat shorts and the race t-shirt. Sometimes I even forget I ever ran it. So, I'm not counting it as my first but here are some blurry 2010-camera-phone pictures to prove it happened.)
I was immediately addicted. I searched for local 5ks and ran every one I could.
|Finishing my first solo race (5k) - 2012.
It was the first time in my life I could remember ever feeling that way.
Now (why I run)
I don't need races to keep myself motivated these days, or to feel accomplished. In the ten years since I started running, I've found the drive within myself and races are just icing. That means my why has changed again.
Now, why do you run? feels like a question with an impossible answer. How do I explain the effects running has had on me, the changes it has wrought, the confidence it has built?
How do I explain that it has become a part of my identity? That without it, my perception of the world and my understanding of strength, resilience, determination, and self-realization would be completely different?
How do you put into words the simple but all-encompassing joy that comes with doing what you love? Doing what makes you whole?
I may not have even truly ever known why I continued if it hadn't been for this year off. Maybe it would have just seemed like something I do - I just do. But now I have seen how much it has impacted me and changed me, and I know what I am without it.
And I know I am better for it.
So...Why do I run?
Because I am simply not myself when I don't.