Last year, as I began to take my health more seriously, I started working out regularly. At first this meant lots of group exercise classes, which I think are a fantastic way to stay motivated when pursuing personal fitness goals. For a while I’d hit the gym every day, paying others to kick my butt in kickboxing, total strength, and step classes. But then, finally, I caught the running bug.
My boyfriend at the time had been running regularly for a while, and I would always whine whenever he took me out for a 5k. It seemed impossible. But somehow, between graduating college and moving to a new city, running started fitting itself into my schedule more often. It became something I craved rather than something I dreaded or resented. Soon a 5k was manageable. Six miles was a stretch. And then one day I got lost in my new city and I accidentally ran 13 miles. I was hooked.
Instead of browsing shopping websites or gossip blogs, I spent my lazy internet hours browsing cool races and marathon training plans. I had huge plans to run the 2011 Disney Marathon. I felt strong and fast and invincible and…for the first time in a while…fit.
Running was also a huge part of my relationship with my boyfriend. We pushed each other and encouraged each other. I became secretly competitive. While running was something that made me feel good about myself (most of the time), I couldn’t honestly say I was only doing it for myself. But I stuck with it. I loved that there was an activity that we could share, running races together and geeking out over glossy new copies of Runner’s World.
And then one day I busted ass on a morning run, and sprained my ankle, and everything changed. I was injured on and off for almost nine months, troubled by a domino effect of compensation injuries. Every time my boyfriend told me about his new 5k time, I hated him for it. I resented every runner I saw on the street. I cried. Even after I finally found an outlet at my yoga studio, my injury was still a constant source of frustration. Why couldn’t I run without pain? Why wasn’t my body doing what I wanted it to do? My self-esteem was so caught up in being this badass runner girl. I didn’t know what my injury meant for my identity.
Gradually, though, things changed. After failing to train for a half marathon in March because of crippling pain, I decided that running wasn’t worth the emotional and physical stress it had caused me. Over the next few months, my relationship with running and my relationship with my boyfriend both ended. Both, to a certain extent, because I needed to do what was right for me, to listen to what my heart and my body were telling me.
So I took some time off. I just did yoga. And, magically, I was happy. And, despite my fears, I didn’t gain weight. My clothes fit just the same. I felt a sense of freedom: free from the mental fixation on running, free from a feeling of obligation, free from a fear of whom I might become if I stopped running. I embraced my yoga practice even more fully – it’s a whole lot easier to bend and twist and stretch when you’re not tight from miles of running. I only pursued physical activities that my body craved.
And, after a little while, I went for a run or two. No longer because I had eaten too much, or because I felt the need to train for something, or because I wanted to tell someone that I had run. I just….wanted to. I wanted to be outside and feel the rush of my breath and the rhythm of my footsteps. And it felt great, because this time, I was doing it on different terms. I was doing it for fun. I was doing it for me.
So over the summer, running and I were on a break. We saw other people. And I had a shameless love affair with my yoga studio. It was lovely. But I’ve begun lacing up my shoes again – only once or twice a week – and it’s been great. Humbling, but great (remember that time I ran a 23:25 5k? Yeah, I’m a little slower now). I have a feeling that, once the leaves turn and the cool breeze starts blowing, I’ll crave the crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I’m sure I’ll lace up my running shoes a little more frequently this season; I might even participate in a few 5ks. But this time, I have no expectations. Because it’s not life or death or all or nothing. It’s just running.