I've been a runner almost as long as I've been sober. I've taken some time off due to some debilitating pain that wouldn't allow me to pursue a run over 2 miles at a time. This too was painful. I'm not always in love with running. On Saturday (it's now Thursday) I ran 31 miles with my husband. It took us 7 hours and 49 minutes. It was a trail race, but we are very slow. In 2013 I ran my marathon in 4:22 which is exactly a 10 minute mile and I thought I was slow then (hahahaha). There are some elite runners out there who would call what I do jogging and that's okay. I'm no elite, and I'm no expert. I'm just your average ex-smoker, ex-drug-addict, ex-meat eating, ex-a-lot-of-things, run of the mill, everyday runner.
When I got sober I decided I should probably quit smoking. I had a pack-a-day, full-flavored habit. I was in a relationship within my first week of sobriety and he had been wanting to quit for a while too. While I picked a better guy sober than I had when I was drinking (vs my usual choice of abusive, bitter and actively using), I was still as co-dependent and self-conscious as ever. I wanted to quit smoking but was afraid I would gain weight and render myself so offensive that he'd break up with me.
That's where the running comes in, or rather walking in the beginning. In fact I had no intentions of ever running. Walking around Town Lake (in Austin) was sufficient for me. One day I was just simply running late (lol) so I had to run a little at the end of my walk. It was extremely efficient and all these other people around me were running on the trail too and I decided that no one would be the wiser if I ran occasionally. My impostor-syndrome-inner-critic was on red alert (still is a lot of the time). I was sure that if I started jogging in my old Nikes and sweat pants that I'd be sneered at or joked about by all the very trendy, obviously confident runners I saw out there. In my defense, if you ever go to Austin Texas, there are a LOT of VERY fit people on the trail and they are somewhat intimidating at times. No one has said anything to me other than "hello" for the most part in all of my years running.
I did quit smoking for two years and my running got better. I trained for a marathon but got stress fractures (overtraining) at that time. Oddly enough I also gained weight from the overtraining because my body was so stressed during my marathon training. When I stopped running due to that injury I ended up separating from that boyfriend and out of boredom and pain I started smoking again. I missed running so much. It had become my meditation and my solace during those first few years of recovery. I also had such low self-esteem that it was sometimes the only thing I felt proud of myself for on a given day. To say I was in love with running is a vast understatement,. I needed it. When I ran, it was my time with God or the Universe, whatever is more comfortable. It was just me, the trail and my other lonely runners, our hearts pumping, trying to untangle the knots in our heads about life and ourselves. One step after another, sweat forming, and then wiping it away, trying to keep breathing, often times crying, and working out my relationship to myself and the world around me. It was and is this conflux of pain and love and yearning and connectedness. At least it is for me. I know lots of people who don't get into that state of "flow" when running. For them it is cycling, or rock climbing, or painting...
Once my knee healed and I was back on the trails again I eventually kicked the smoking habit again. This time for good (so far). This time I combined getting out of a different relationship, going vegan, quitting smoking, and marathon training (part deux). This time I made it to the marathon and along the way I met my now husband. Through all the ups and downs of my sobriety running has been a constant. I ALWAYS feel good when I'm done. After the birth of my first baby however, I couldn't run. I had a condition called Osteitis Pubis, and you can google it, but basically my pubic bone became inflamed with any run. It was like an ice-pick pain to my groin that would build slowly from about 1 mile up until it became unbearable by 2.5...I went to the gym. It wasn't the same. After my second baby, I started a healing diet that has changed my body in immeasurable ways. I started the diet when I was 7 months pregnant, and started running again, pain free, about 10 weeks postpartum (another miracle).
Running ceased to be purely about aesthetics for me about the time I could run 3 miles in a row (about 6 months after I started walking). There was something inside of me that HAD to do it, and it wasn't just about killer legs anymore (although, who are we kidding, it is a major perk). I don't know if there was an Angel or a Divine Idea or what that decided to chose me to do this, but that is what it feels like. Especially when I hear people talk about how much they hate running. I just stare and wonder, why me? Why was I given this gift of loving something that, let's face it, is somewhat masochistic? What is there to gain in the pain and perseverance?
Then on Saturday I ran 31 miles. Farther and longer than I have ever run in my entire life. And of course while I was in it, I wanted it to be over, I swore to myself I'd never do anything like this ever again, but there is a part of me now that wants to go even further! Seriously, there must be some kind of entity that has take over my mind and body because it is pure madness. When I was out there running, there were so many thoughts. A lot of them the same thought or mantra over and over. In the beginning, to not let myself get caught up in the energy of those faster than me it was "run the mile you're in. Let them go." Then it was "just keep up with Jason, all you have to do is follow him and keep up." Then it was "please God, please Help me! Please get me through this, I can't do it." And also "I want my mom." By that point around miles 18-26, I was hurting. I had been on my feet moving forward for over 6 hours. This child-like place came bubbling up and I wanted to be held by a parent. And I started to sob in the woods, while running. I could feel the pain from deep in my gut emanate and choke out of my mouth with heavy heaves of my chest and the energy of the sadness of parts of my childhood or innocence began to lift out of me with each step and each sob. The physical pain and the emotional pain twirled together in a double-helix rising out through my throat into the atmosphere, absorbed by the trees and the silence. And I felt lighter. Something had come away. Like a fur coat in the summer, I could feel the coolness on my shoulders as it fell away. And I finished in a place of otherworldly gratitude and awe. Not quite sure of what took place, but with an awareness of the vastness of the unknown both within me and in the Universe.
I've never been much for competition in my running. Sometimes I feel embarrassed by my slowness, but usually I can see the futility in my ego's yearning for status. I know that just daring to be out there is mighty. I'd like to hope that whatever left me on the trail last weekend will stay gone. That I'll look at my family with more understanding and let the resentments of my youth lay to rest where they belong in the forest. I have been more introspective and mindful over the last few days. I've been trying to figure out exactly what happened and how to talk about it. It is hard to put in words something that is so confusing and ethereal yet also so life altering. Just talking about the physical act of running isn't that interesting or helpful for me. The why is the cool part. I think it's slightly different for each person, but I think there's a common element of healing or of searching for something lost. Sometimes I think that I must be working out some sort of karmic debt when I run and the pain is the price of freedom in a past life or the next. That it's a form of heavenly currency. I know that for all the thinking and the bargaining and the talking to God that I do, I sure want it to be that.
I don't really get to talk about this stuff with most people because like I mentioned before, not many people like running that I know. And on top of that, most people don't want to talk about me crying and running, and why I might think that is happening (can't imagine why not). My husband and I have talked a little about it and he understands. And maybe now you do too a little. Of course if you are a runner, you've known for sometime what I'm talking about.
I ran again for the first time yesterday. It was weird to just go, also nice to just get out there. I'll go again tomorrow. And who know what will come next. At the very least I'd like to do a Marathon each year. I may get faster and I may not. Something I can bank on is that I'll keep learning more about myself and touching a little bit more of the vast Unknown. I'll keep asking The Question with my running and it'll keep answering with "just a little bit further, almost there." Amen