i broke up with running
Come back to yourself. Return to the voice of your body. Trust that much. ~Geneen Roth
I vividly remember the first time I ran three miles. It was summer 2002, and my roommate/colleague/fellow Harry Potter lover and I had been trotting about the neighborhood for a couple of months in the name of exercise. I wore Skechers purchased on sale from Kohl’s and cotton everything, and the most thought we put into it was coordinating our schedules. This was before Garmin existed (or maybe it wasn’t and I was just behind the times, which would be perfectly in keeping with my true nature) so we just ran until we got hungry and then turned around. No pressure to quantify anything – just the simplest way for us to be outside moving our bodies and laugh the entire time. And we celebrated the end of every run because why wouldn’t we?
One evening, we walked in, leaving a trail of ponytail sweat, eagerly anticipating the bottle of wine and taco salad that had dominated our conversation for the last half of our run. As we’re piling ingredients onto the counter, I discovered I needed to make a store run, and as I unlocked my car, I had the idea to drive our running route to see how far our feet had taken us that day. “Holy shit, we ran three miles!” I yelled, bursting through the front door. “We should run a 5K together!” she exclaims, opening the bottle of wine. And so we did. We ran several, actually. And a half-marathon relay, which progressed into a couple of half marathons before life staked a ‘Divided Highway Ahead’ sign between us and my very first running partner moved away.
I get the question “How did you get into running?” a lot – I mean a lot, a lot – and I think back to those evenings of simply putting one foot in front of the other while we prattled on about nothing or everything, and then toasted a “fun well done” every. single. time. I was gloriously clueless to the existence of gear, training plans, or proper fueling – or even to the idea that my body had an “optimal time of day for better running performance.” What?? I just did the thing that I loved to do simply because I loved to do it. It never crossed my mind to be the best – simply to feel the best. I moved that way for years, my mileage growing increasingly longer, until one day I didn’t, and this brings us to 2011 – the year I nearly broke up with running…
That year, wiser, properly geared up, and trackable by GPS, I fell into step with a new running partner purely based on the fact that we got along really well, and, at that point, both of our lives dictated that we finish our running before sunup. We started group runs hours before anyone else to get extra miles and met throughout the week for hill repeats, fartleks, and tempo runs. See? Wiser. I even spoke fluent running. I was no longer gloriously clueless, but pleasure continued to be my propeller.
Let’s step back for a bit, though (yeah, yeah, we just got here, but bear with me), to the year before when I entered a 24 Hour Race just to see what it was all about. And yes, I know… “You mean you run for 24 hours??? Why?!?!” Yep. That’s how it goes. And because it’s far more fun than it sounds. Anyway, I was just coming off of a gnarly adductor injury, so my plan was nothing more than to run for as long as I could and enjoy every step. One trash can collision, two foam rolling sessions, six PB&Bs (because bananas trump jelly, always), and several new friends later, the gun signaling the end of 24 hours went off, and I left with just shy of 90 miles on my legs and a newfound love of endurance running. But, as I tend to do, I digress…
So, back to my running partner… The following July, she and I started one of our stupid early runs, and, nearly immediately, our conversation gravitated toward racing – most specifically, the 24 The Hard Way event that I had “fun run” last fall. We huffed along, and she started talking about goals and fun and the marriage of the two. This girl… This girl is talented, strong, and hardheaded as fuck, and her idea of fun is kicking ass. She has a true gift for sneaking you into competitive mode, and before you know it, you’ve got the next three months of running (which, at this point is training, because running is too flowery of a word for what she does) planned out and it all culminates with a win. From that moment, every run had a singularly focused purpose and my life followed suit. Each time I completed a training run, I tacked on a little extra – you know… just for good measure. I cut coffee (Good god, woman!), wine (Have you gone mad??), and any other form of exercise because I got sucked into the inevitably injurious and decidedly ridiculous “sport specific” idea. Fun was NOT to be had for the next three months because if I have fun, then I’m not training right, and if I’m not training right, then why am I even doing this, and blah blah blah… Moving on…
She and I took first and second place that year, but it nearly destroyed my love of running. After crossing the finish line, I found myself strangled by two thoughts in opposition that kept circling each other: What’s my next goal? Now what do I do with myself with all this free time? The obvious answer would be to find another race and run. The irony is that I couldn’t. I’d broken up with running, and although I missed it terribly, I also didn’t miss it at all. That race, though we accomplished our goals, nearly destroyed my love of running, because an act as simple as putting one foot in front of the other purely so that I could be the best version of myself turned into an unwavering focus on just being the best. The win came at a price that I’m not willing to pay again – the loss of a love affair with my own two feet and their representation of human capability without agenda.
Don’t mistake that last statement for one of unwillingness to work hard because hard work in all the ways feeds my soul. I didn’t let go of that, even when running and I were on a break. It was simply manifested in other ways. Either through good fortune or sheer stubbornness, running and I reconciled several months later, and since then I’ve had some really strong training seasons and crossed a few finish lines with great success, but I’ve done so with a wider perspective, plenty of coffee, and a little dose of balance.
Epilogue (because I like doing those now):
I’m in another Yoga Teacher Training – forgive me if this isn’t new news – and part of the homework includes philosophy essays. LOVE! A couple of weekends ago, I had to write on the idea of balancing abhyasa (willful effort or practice) and vairagya (practicing for the sake of experience, rather than outcome). Because I’m a storyteller of life experiences in yoga, I wrote a greatly condensed version of the story above for my essay. We were limited to one double-spaced page, which was wicked hard for this exceedingly verbose girl, but I’m glad these words get to exist in their full formation here.