My Relationship with Running
At the end of October, I completed my third half marathon.
But this time I walked it, and it ended up being a really healing experience for me (minus the blisters and the lactic acid). Most people try and get faster each time they complete a half marathon, but I’m unconventional and tried to get slower (which was saying something because the first two were definitely slow).
Let me explain. In middle school, I joined the cross country and track teams. I continued this journey into high school. I was by no means an elite athlete; I mostly did it because my parents required my sister and I to do some sort of a sport to instill a love for fitness in us (it didn’t work as well as they thought it would… I would much rather sit on the couch). I spent most of time just socializing with people. It’s where I found boys to have crushes on, and people to hang with, because God bless the running community. Because of these relationships, I don’t regret my involvement at all. However, during my junior year, I was diagnosed with Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS). Basically what that means is things in your knee (that aren’t supposed to touch) end up rubbing together a lot with continuous motion and causing a ridiculous amount of pain. So it took me out as an athlete, but I stayed connected by being a team manager, which was the best of both worlds. Social? Yes. Physical labor? Nah.
I wasn’t very proactive about trying to work through my PFPS. I pretty much just hung up my shoes. But my outlook changed in college when I met a guy who was very passionate about running, and his attitudes started to influence me. I impressed him enough to get him to date me, but obviously I’m not talking about Josh, so the relationship didn’t last. The running did, however. Since then, I’ve gone back and forth. It was a great exercise, as well as giving me an excuse to be outside. AND IT’S FREE. It gave me the flexibility to be by myself, or be with someone else who was running. I could listen to music; I could listen to podcasts. It also helped me process through a lot of emotions over the years.
But I was never really good at it.
In the last couple years, a friend who was (and is) very good at it tried to help me get good at it. Jokes on him. And thus began the half marathon training sequence. I thought it would be great because it would give me something to work toward. It would be a motivator. Besides, I had lost thirty pounds the previous year from eating better and running, and I wanted to continue my “health journey.” So I trained my little heart out. Until I would get bored. Or frustrated. But ultimately, I feel like my motivations behind running were never pure. I was either running because I was unhappy with my body or I was trying to impress people or I was chasing that endorphin high. All of these motivators are going to lead to some type of destruction at some point. Which brings me to my analysis of my relationship with running.
I will not deny that running can be an excellent form of exercise. Some swear by it and do it almost exclusively. However, it is not for everyone. It’s really hard on your body. But it can also be extremely hard on you mentally and/or emotionally. Some people thrive on the mental challenge of beating yourself, or beating your body into submission. Unfortunately, that demand can be absolutely toxic to some personalities.
One of my sweet friends ran a 3:14 full marathon. If you see the picture of him crossing the finish line, he looks absolutely skeletal (which is ironic because there’s nothing he loves more than a good Skeletor GIF). We weren’t close back then, but he has told me that if he could have ran himself into the ground back then, he would have. He has never been unhappier, and running was an outlet for him to feed that. His obsession with getting better only led to disappointment any time he didn’t hit a goal. He often felt like a failure. However, not meeting a goal doesn’t necessarily mean you failed. It could have happened for any number of reasons; with running there are so many variables that can affect you. But when you’re a perfectionist (to a fault), that can be hard to remind yourself.
The day of any big race was full of excitement for me. I would be so happy and glowing in anticipation before. And afterward, the endorphins would be raging through my system and I would be ridiculously proud of myself. Nevertheless, the next day was always a hard crash into reality. These are the moments where I found myself wondering if there was maybe something wrong with my mental health (For more, read this), because no matter what people said to me, I would relentlessly beat myself up about how “poorly” I did. Josh would often have to talk me out of stupors of “I’m not good enough,” and “I could have done better if I had just ______________.” He was so patient with me through it all, and we started planning for and anticipating these crashes post-race (i.e. planning his trips around my races so he would be home to wipe my tears, making sure there were social events planned for several days post-race to distract me, etc.). These flashes of my depression were beginning to run my life and Josh’s.
I don’t know how to be a runner and how to be healthy about it. I’m either half-hearted or I am obsessive. And until I can reconcile a healthy relationship with it, I have to hang up my shoes and find something else for exercise. Maybe someday we will be friends again, but for now, I will be a cheerleader for those who choose to beat their bodies into submission through half marathons.
I’m not actually that wise though. My body was what told me to stop. My plan with the third half marathon was to train and be faster than I’ve ever been before. I even teamed up with my sister for her first half marathon. About a month into training, my knee gave out. And so began the PFPS again. So I stayed off of it for a while, hoping the knee pain would just subside like it had in the past, but it was persistent. And I took a cue from my body and just stopped completely.
I’m not going to pretend that I was heartbroken, but I have felt a bit lost. I have spent a lot of money on running gear over the years and now it just collects dust. And also, now I have a complicated relationship with carbohydrates. When you’re not getting cardiovascular exercise regularly, carbs do things to you.
As the day of the half marathon approached, my sister appealed to me. “I would just walk it with you if you wanted. Just finishing is good enough for me.”
There’s that phrase again. Good enough.
So we did. I looked my perfectionist, self-depreciating self past in the figurative face and said, “Look here MISSY. You want me to run faster? I’m going to walk this whole dang thing nice and slow. How’s that for getting over my pride?” And hot dang it was healing. It definitely stomped on my pride quite a bit, and reminded me that I have to do what’s best for me, even if it’s less than what others can do.
I don’t have to be the best. I just have to be the best version of myself.
And for now, that version is not a runner.