I started running for exercise (not because my lacrosse coach was punishing me with laps around the track) when I was 24 years old, 3 months after I got sober. It crossed my mind that it would be a good idea to start walking when I quit smoking in order to stave off potential weight gain that happens as a result of a habitual oral fixation mixed with less appetite suppression when you quit smoking and your food flavors come back to life.
I often start things for vanity's sake and then end up building character later on (debatable if you ask my mother). Maybe its always this way for some. I daydream about people who are just naturally "good" or altruistic souls and how they got that way. But for this lifetime, I have a few more lessons in humility I think.
This story is about running though. About building a sense of self through running. And how I got started accidentally into something now that is one of the most precious "things" in my life. If you are a runner, then you know. You know you are drawn to a sport that most people wonder why in the world you would subject yourself to. You might know why and you might still be figuring it out. That's what I am aiming to do by writing about my running. I'd like to untangle what it is that keeps me going week after week for years. Or at least, the changes in reasons why from day to day.
On one of my walks around the lake of approximately 3 to 4 miles, about 4 weeks after my last cigarette, I looked at my phone and realized I was running behind. I don't remember what for, just that I needed to get back to my car to get somewhere, so on this day, I did a bit of a jog/walk routine for the last couple of miles. I remember thinking how much faster it was and that I should try jogging and walking as a regular habit to save time. At this point, I was using some old casual Reebok sneakers not meant for running or walking for that matter. I think I had some gym-style cotton shorts and generally wore an old cotton sports bra and a t-shirt.
On the trail I was walking on there were lots of runners, walkers, bike-riders and even an occasional unicycler. Anyone familiar with Austin Texas knows it is one of the fittest cities and has tons of running trails throughout the hill-country. It is beautiful and I miss it all the time. In the heart of downtown Austin there is a 10+ mile trail that goes around the Colorado River lined with crushed granite. It is awesome. All towns should have some equivalent (slightly biased). Also very close to this trail is the trail-head of a trail that is over 16 miles and heads west along a creek-bed. Lovingly known as The Greenbelt. I grew up walking, biking and swimming along these trails as I grew up, but never did they mean more to me as they did when I became "a runner."
My experiment with jog/walking went really well but I was worried the running police were going to stop me for running in crappy old gym clothes and non-running shoes. I remember when I went into Run Tex (no longer around :()running store and all these "real runners" who worked there tried to help me. I think I bought a sports bra and a pair of running shorts on sale. I was shocked at how expensive running shoes were. I didn't buy any on my first trip, but about a week later I worked up the courage to be honest with one of the sales people. They were so nice. I'm pretty sure I verbally vomited half my life story and ended up with "so you see, I don't know what I'm doing and I think I need some real running shoes...(insert deer in the headlights stare/grin)" I ended up trying on about 4 different pairs of shoes and sort of trotting around in hope of figuring out a compatible pair. Honestly they all felt great so I went with one that was sort of in-the-middle price wise. I didn't know anything about my feet swelling, or blisters, or toe-boxes or arch support or heel drop or any of it. I picked a pair of Mizunos. They were glorious. There was this little fast-looking chaparral on the side and I felt a kinship with them immediately. Even long after they were tired and worn, I was almost tearful the day they got stolen off my front porch. I did hope they went to someone who needed them. I still to this day have a slightly unnatural love for my running shoes. There is so much promise in them you know? I think I ran in those first shoes for over a year. I had read at this point that you were supposed to change out your shoes every 500 miles or so, and I wasn't really keeping track of mileage at the time, so I figured a year was about right for me. I experimented next with some Saucony's which gave me blisters (i bought them too small) and a pair of Nike's that did the same but I stuck with the Nike's for a while. I was running without walking after my first year and had acquired an entire running wardrobe (new gear keeps you motivated right?). I was on a community softball league and one of my team mates suggested I apply for free training (if it's your first Marathon)with a local coaching group called Twenty-Six-Two. I didn't really think that they'd accept me when I applied so I didn't give it much thought when I submitted the request. I was wrong. They accepted almost the next day! Holy S#!t. I didn't think I'd live past 25, let alone train for some masochistic Marathon. I instantly had buyers remorse to put it lightly. But, I showed up as I had started to do in my new, sober life. And I was in the "slow group" (12 min mile) but man did I do things I never thought I could (or would). One of my running buddies was a cop which we laughed about seeing as how I, only a few years prior, was mostly dodging jail on a daily basis, and was now just a normal, law-abiding citizen running with her cop friend. For an addict like me, this was an astronomically odd turn of events, but not unwelcome. I trained hard for the next 5 months, speed-work and all. I got introduced to Yassos, tempo runs, long runs, recovery runs, how to fuel during long runs, running in freezing rain, blister protection, hill workouts, and a few secrets of the universe out there chatting with my new friends at 7 am as we worked it all out. Sadly, about 3 weeks before the Marathon I had some nagging knee pain that my coach thought was IT band issues at the time. On an 18 mile tempo run, right at mile 9 coming around the bend at my high school track I landed on my left leg and SLAM! I stopped dead in my tracks and tears started streaming down my face...hard. All my running group stopped and were asking me what was wrong, they were a little frantic as it was a pretty abrasive stop and I think I may have shrieked in pain. The coach was on the sideline and I looked over at him. He was talking with a few other runners and I could see him staring at me very concerned. I told them to go on, but I didn't think I was going to be able to finish the run. I smiled and told them not to worry. They said okay, and to text them later. I said I would. I walked over to the coach and told him that I really wanted to finish the run but that I couldn't. He was a little skeptical that I was probably okay but that I should get it looked at if I was really worried. In his defense, I was probably downplaying the pain to him. I knew that the pain that had been building for weeks in my left knee was not going away and was in fact, increasing as I trained more. Some of you already know what happened, you especially know what happened if you've ever skipped any mid-week runs during a training period which I did frequently. When I got the MRI the ends of my Femur and Tibia looked like shattered glass. Stress fractures...Heartbroken is not a strong enough word to describe how I felt to lose not only my training, but my time with my crew, and of course getting to complete the Marathon. My doctor said "you can run this Marathon, and never run again, or you can stop running now, and run the rest of your life, your choice." It took 6 months to get back to running 3 miles twice a week. There are a lot of reasons other than just skipping some training runs which contributed (in my opinion) to my stress fractures, but those are for another post. I spent some time doing some easy classes at the YMCA and walking and rehabbing my knee, but without running in my life during that time off was hard. I never thought in my life I'd fall in love with something so hard. It had become my identity, but more importantly it had become my time with myself and with The Universe (or God if you prefer). Before I got sober I didn't like myself, I hated myself. I thought I was lazy, stupid, defective, and unlovable trash. After I got sober, running gave me a small victory everyday. I would tell myself how proud I was of myself. That I could do anything. I talked to God (whatever that is) and I cried. I cried on those trails. I cried because I was sad that I didn't believe in myself for so long and was so lonely. I cried for the hope that the future held and deep tears of gratitude for the gift of an amazing body that was able, and carrying me to new friends, ideas, meditative states of oneness, and connection to the natural world. Running left me feeling alive after I had wanted to die. Two years later, I trained with two women for the Austin Marathon again. I can assure you I did not miss a single run. I finished in 4:22. Slow for some, but considering I smoked (amongst other things) for 11 years, I'll take a 10 minute mile.
When we moved to Florida I ran a bit less. I did our local half-marathon my first year. I complained that there are no hills here so it's too boring. I was in a rut. Some of it is because I missed my old running friends, and my home, and my trails. Some of it was I was working too much. Also I didn't get connected to the local running community right away. Then we had babies. And after the first one and a very traumatic birth (for me, not for her) I was sidelined with multiple injuries and something called osteitis pubis, "Osteitis pubis is an inflammation of the pubic symphysis and surrounding muscle insertions. First described in patients who underwent suprapubic surgery, it remains a well-known complication of invasive procedures about the pelvis. It may also occur as an inflammatory process in athletes (https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/87420-overview#:~:text=Osteitis%20pubis%20is%20an%20inflammation,an%20inflammatory%20process%20in%20athletes.)." Basically I had searing pain in my groin anytime I attempted a run over 2 miles. It was like an ice-pick to the pubic bone and it was completely debilitating. For 2 years I went to the gym, begrudgingly doing gym workouts. Every time I'd see a runner I'd feel deep sadness and envy. I would think "they don't know how good they have it." I complained constantly to my husband (poor guy). I sobbed a time or two. You see, running is my therapy. It's how I get all the antsy-angries out. It's how I survive this crazy world we live in. And it was taken from me. So after my second baby and even more hip and groin pain I figured I'd really be done. But during the second pregnancy I started to eat better. Around 6 months pregnant I was on crutches and couldn't walk. I re-read a book about healing the body through food called Medical Medium and all the subsequent books of Anthony Williams's and started following the whole-foods, lower-fat, lower-sugar, lower salt, healing protocols. I started drinking celery juice every morning. By 8 1/2 months pregnant the pain in my hips started to subside. I have now been drinking celery juice every morning for over a year and last Sunday my husband and I ran 8.5 miles on our long run. No pain. God willing and the creek don't rise and come December 12th I'll be running my first 50k. There is a lot more to the pregnancy stories but I'll save that for another time. All I have to say is that I have never been more grateful to be able to run in my life. I don't know how it will all go, but I know I'm going to keep healing and I can't wait for my kids to get older and run with me. Something happens when you run with other people. The bond is deep, and it is true. It's part of why I run. Ultimately running to me is an affirmation of life and a respect for life and this journey on Earth School. What started out as pure vanity, I hope, has turned into something like strong character. May you run forever out there. Much love.