My relationship with running has been a real evolution. First, in my much younger years, I ran because it was the easiest (and cheapest) way for me to exercise when I could not make it to the gym, and I had grown up watching my father run all of my life. He was not a competitive runner, but on weekends or on the rare occasions that he was home early from work, he would strap on his sneakers and go out for a run for an hour or so.
Then, when I hit my professional life and encountered the incredible stresses that go along with that, running started to become an outlet for me – although I am not sure I was consciously aware of that then. It was not until I underwent my second knee surgery at the ripe ole age of 35 and was told that I had no cartilage left in my knee and running was no longer an option for me that my love of running really took off. Prior to that moment, maybe I ran one to two times a week. I had basically been living in New York City for years at that point and if you are even a once-a-week runner in that city, you will at some point tell yourself that you are going to run the NYC marathon. As soon as my knee surgeon told me that my running days were over, my mission became to rehab from my surgery as smartly as I could and run the NYC marathon. For those who know me, this mentality is probably not surprising as I do not like to be told I can’t do something. Throughout my life, when I have encountered these types of situations, something sparks inside of me and I must prove that yes, I actually can do this – not only to myself but to whomever told me it was not possible.
Once I rehabbed from surgery (which was in the fall), I applied to run the NYC marathon and then found some friends to do training runs with the following spring. Running turned into something much more than exercise for me at that point. I joined the NYC road runners and signed up for every road race they offered and used those timed races as training runs. I was focused and would wake up and go for a run and then run at the end of the day too. I would throw my sneakers on, put my headphones on, blast music and escape as I tormented my body to see what it was capable of. Someone had told me I was not physically capable of this and so a part of me expected my body to remind me of that, but I was actually reminded that if I set my mind to something, my body would follow if I willed it and treated it right. By November I had shaved minutes off my mile pace, my legs were stronger than ever before, and I was marathon ready with easily 40 other races already under my belt.
There is no feeling like crossing that finish line in a distance road race – the adrenaline rush, the satisfaction of knowing all of your hard work paid off and the reaffirmation that you are in fact still an athlete, even with a ‘bum’ knee and your old age. Flash forward past boxes of race medals, multiple marathon finishes, more half marathon finishes than I can even count and even more 5/10/15K finishes, a move from my beloved NYC running terrain, three kids in 18 months and the real struggle of trying to find time for the old running version of me while working full time and being a mom and wife full time, and my relationship with running has morphed yet again. I now live on the top of a mountain that makes those infamous Harlem Hills seem inconsequential and my post children body and stamina are far different than they were when I was clocking sub-8-minute miles on distance runs. This has been the foundation of my current love/hate relationship with running at the moment.
I am not who I was when I first fell into my deep love of running, but I still find myself craving that post run feel, even if most of my run is spent in frustration at how slow I am now or how much quicker I lose my breath, but I am learning to be gentle on myself. I am learning now that when you let the competitive nature of road race running go and you focus just on the quiet rhythm of your feet hitting the pavement, with every step you can find a peaceful, yet sweaty, calmness in a run. My runs are moments of release for any stress and emotions I’m feeling, as well as a time for solitude, where I can feel and focus on whatever I need to in that moment without any distraction.
Running can be the most humbling and invigorating activity at the same exact time. It can bring you back down to reality and provide an avenue of escape simultaneously and, if you let it, it just might show you how truly mentally strong you are at the exact moment you need to be shown.