I remember the first run I ever went on.
I was 12 years old and going through a lot of stuff. My dad, a longtime runner, saw and seized upon the opportunity to introduce me to running as a thoughtful, therapeutic tool—one that he hoped I would keep in my back pocket for a lifetime. I, feeling ‘meh’ about the whole thing, acquiesced without much thought.
So down the country road we went. At first, it was magical. And suddenly, as running does, everything changed. My stomach groaned in protest, while my legs cramped up and my flimsy cotton tank top with its meager built-in bra did fabulously nothing to conceal the onset of womanhood. I can best summarize the experience as:
Me—Wide awake to and suddenly self-conscious of the changes brought on by puberty while running with my Daaaaaaad—WHY-DID-YOU-MAKE-ME-DO-THIS?
My Dad—Equally proud and terribly unsure what to make of his dutiful, compassionate shuffle as I huffed, gruffed, and bleated strings of expletives about running.
To say the least, that first run was quite the experience for my Dad and me, but it wasn’t our last adventure together. [Phew]
My Dad’s intention, to give me a tool, really hit home: running was forever in my back pocket. Running gave me strength and a sense of independence—it also humbled me and provided a bevy of laughable moments (e.g. at 17 I pooped my pants on a long run and I’ll never forget the comedic chaos that ensued). I learned to lean on it for support, but like all important relationships, I also learned when I needed to take a step back from it.
I’ve had to take a lot of breathing space from running. Reasons range from injury, life changes, no budget for new running shoes, my menstrual cycle, or (more recently) the loss of a loved one. But regardless of the ‘why’, taking space from running is hard. I often feel conflicted and anxious. It’s partially because I miss running. And it’s also because I know that when I come out from underneath my hiatus, the first few weeks are going to feel just as emotionally and physically draining as the break itself.
I’ve often felt demoralized by the very idea of starting over. I wind up qualifying my own experiences and judging myself—”What’s your problem? You’ve run farther than this before, why are you slogging through this distance?” or “Why are you having such a hard time breathing? You should be sailing through this.”
Should be. Have done. Why-are-you-this-way: All that negative self-talk. I get in so deep that I don’t even pay attention to my surroundings….which is the whole point of why I’m out on there. To connect. To see. To breathe life into myself again. Not belittle it.
The past year has proven to be a tough one for me. It’s been filled with starts and stops—and more than enough negative self-talk sessions than I’d like to admit. As such, it’s forced me to reconcile with that old memory of when I first started out. Because…it actually wasn’t as bad, hard, or awkward as I remember it being (and no, that’s not hindsight talking).
Yeah, I felt awkward but, more importantly, I felt free—like I was flying. I didn’t care about whether or not I was breathing hard. I didn’t care how far I would go. I didn’t care what my pace was and what people’s opinions of me were. I didn’t give a rat’s ass whether or not I felt like I worthy enough to call myself a runner. And I really, really didn’t care about whether or not I was falling on my forefoot too much. I was just running. And that’s all that mattered.
This shift has reminded me to view myself as a student, a perpetual beginner if you will. But the difference between Original Beginner me and Perpetual Student me is simple: now, instead of keeping the act of running in my back pocket, I keep a sliver of compassion and self-love there. I know that running will let me come and go as a please—I simply need to let myself wax and wane, too.
A lot has changed since that first, fateful day I ran. I now know better than to wear cotton while running. And instead of cussing out Dear Old Dad, I’m thanking him for giving me the greatest gift of all: the opportunity to go for a cruise and see myself in a new light time-and-time again. But, at heart, I’m still that 12-year-old young girl flopping around in her worn out tennies.