Sometimes I cry when I run. Not for the same reasons I would have guessed! I started running as a twisted way to influence someone else, never anticipating that I would fall in love with it. I expected that it would be grueling, so tough that I gave myself a year to train up to 2.25 miles, figuring I would add one sidewalk square a day. I reached my goal in six weeks. I thought I’d hate every minute of it, and that pushing myself so hard would be this terrific character-building experience. Was I ever wrong! Distance running started bringing up emotions I never knew were part of the human package. Sometimes I feel a victorious, elated sensation that makes me thrust my arms into the air, like I’m breaking a finish line ribbon, which is hilarious at my pace. Other times I feel a physical connection to the natural world around me, a kinship with the plants and birds and animals I see on the trail. I’ve felt an almost absurd sense of well-being, a happiness that sounds so fake it’s like I’m selling something. Other times, of course, I bawl like a mother of the bride.
The first time it happened, I was running my first 5k. I had only been running for a few months, and I wasn’t at all confident that I could finish three miles. But I’d paid $38 to register and that meant I was committed. A few days before my race, I tripped on the trail and took a nasty fall. I hit my face on a rock, had scrapes and bruises on every limb, and banged up my knee pretty badly. I could barely walk the next day. There was no way I was going to skip my race; it wasn’t just the $38, but the fact that I’d made a public announcement that I was doing it.
I met with an old friend who had encouraged me and agreed to run with me. I couldn’t keep up with her pace, though. She dropped me around the first mile, at about the same point that I finally managed to pass this eight-year-old girl whose swinging ponytail had been taunting me. I kept going, lungs burning, swollen knee throbbing, feeling like an exhausted old wreck. In the last half mile, I was passed by a heavyset man around my age. He had been saving his strength and pacing himself. We were heading uphill. My morale dropped. This was when I reminded myself that a lot of people were following my progress. I knew I could inspire my friends with my example. Truly, if I could do it, just about anyone could! I started mentally listing off everyone I knew who had health problems. I would chant his or her name with each step, pattering along the asphalt. Every eight steps, I would switch to a new name, picturing my beloved friend or family member. I felt as though I were somehow taking their pain into myself and burning it off into harmless vapor. It wasn’t long before I was practically sobbing. When I crossed the finish line, I was absolutely stunned to see that I’d taken about 20% off my usual time for that distance.
The next time, it was the December that marked my first year of running. I had made a resolution to run a half marathon, but there had been travel and a chest cold and we were reaching the end of the year with no official race. I decided it was fair to run 13.1 miles on my own. It was the distance I was after, not the race bib. I posted about my run on Facebook. At about the halfway point, there happens to be a bridge. As I crossed it, I started talking to myself, saying I had made it halfway and I’d be home in no time. “I’m doing it… for my friends!” I completely choked myself up and started weeping. Then I turned around and started heading back. Unbeknownst to me, one of my local friends had figured out my route from my live posts. About two miles from home, there he was, standing on the corner with his kids, holding up signs with my name in glitter and cheering me on. I lost it. I was crying so hard I could barely keep my feet moving. I kept going, though, and made it home without walking.
The last time, I managed not to cry. It was my first marathon, and I was stupidly, very stupidly running on an ankle injury. (Tendonitis of the anterior tibialis). I’d taken a few months off of training, running only on the elliptical for a few weeks before the event, but I wasn’t completely healed. I could only run the first 17 miles. The next mile or two, I tried to run-walk, but I was done. The last eight miles, I walked, and this was made worse when the race committee decided to switch to the alternate route at least a half hour early. At that point, everyone left had to walk on ordinary city streets, waiting at every single intersection for the lights to change. This was one of the most demoralizing times of my entire life. By the time I made the home stretch, I was limping. I fully intended to “run” the last half-block, so my family could see my running across the finish line, but I turned the corner and they could already see me. I choked up, not so much feeling sorry for myself as seeing my sad self through their eyes. Sweaty, frazzled, dragging my leg alone up the sidewalk. All I had left was grit and that was mostly gone. Gone, just like all the remaining t-shirts in my size and the next size up. I became a sad blue ghost with a Portland Marathon logo.
I started running because it was important to me to walk my talk, to avoid giving anyone advice I wasn’t prepared to follow myself. There were people in my life who worried me, and I had a strong desire to fuss over them. I know this does nothing more than annoy people and make them dig in their heels on whatever self-destructive behavior is their personal favorite. I knew it would change me to drop that impulse to try to change other people. I didn’t know how much running would change me through its own special magic. I also didn’t anticipate that my running would indeed influence other people in my life. (All of them run a faster pace than I do now). Running has been one of my greatest passions. It’s a sort of emotional crucible for me, just as it has taken me through so many physical changes. Among other things, it’s given me a newfound strength and confidence. When I have a goal, nothing stops me, whether blood, toil, tears, sweat, snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, hitting my face on a rock, or glitter glue.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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