One of my 2012 resolutions was to continue making time for exercising and training in the midst of beginning grad school on top of everything I am already doing. My cohort meets Tuesday nights, so this means that if I’m going to get in a workout Tuesdays, it has to either be ridiculously early in the morning or ridiculously late at night (by school night standards at least). It’s been…challenging to say the least. It is so hard to drag myself out of bed on those days when I know I have to get that run or bike or swim in before school, otherwise it’s definitely not going to happen. I’m not a morning person to begin with, so getting up at 4:30 or sometimes even earlier is capital-P-Painful.
Here’s the thing, though—it is always, always worth it. The other day was one of those days. I did all of my night time rituals to make sure my morning would be as seamless as possible—you know, sleeping in my running clothes, laying out socks and shoes, packing my lunch in advance, laying out an outfit for school…every second of sleep counts! But when my alarm went off at an ungodly hour, I immediately thought, “Maybe I can just skip it…” and “Is this REALLY worth it???”
Is this really worth it?
When running is hard, or painful, or exhausting, it’s easy to catch yourself wondering those very words. Why do we put ourselves through this? I’ve definitely said them quite a few times and have had them said to me by non-runners when I’m dealing with an injury or getting up early for a race or dragging myself through a long run in July sun. Is it really worth it? This week, though, when I did hit the roads around 4:45am, the answer came to me almost immediately. Running through my head on repeat was this phrase:
Running never, ever, ever takes back more than it gives.
I’m not sure where it was that I first heard this mantra (maybe it was from this nike ad, but I have a feeling it was before...), but it just fit this particular run.
My legs were heavy, my body was tired, it was 4:45 in the freaking morning…but that was all okay. Because of all of the things running takes in my life, it gives so. much. more. It’s true, running takes away my sleep between the 4am and 10pm workouts, the early race start times, and my ongoing race to beat the sun in the summer. It also takes time, plain and simple. Time training, time racing, time icing, time foam rolling, time thinking about running, making training plans, browsing races online, buying gear…time in physical therapy even. It takes money. Money for shoes, gear, gadgets, books, magazines, and race entry fee after entry fee. Running takes energy. Does it ever! How many times have I spent a Saturday or Sunday morning out for a long run or a race, only to find myself collapsed on the couch (or floor...) with no energy left to do ANYTHING else that day? Running can take away Saturday nights out with friends. “No thanks, I’ll just have water,” and “Sorry, I can’t, I have a long run tomorrow.” Running sometimes even takes away my peace of mind when it slams me with another injury or just the anxiety about another injury.
Running takes, and takes, and takes.
But I will say it again:
Running never, ever, ever takes back more than it gives.
Running gives me strength.
Running has made my body STRONG, stronger than it’s ever been. But more importantly, running gives me mental strength and toughness. Running makes me realize that my body can truly do anything when my mind commits and believes. Running gives me the strength to not give up when I’m hot or tired or feeling lazy. It forces me to dig deep inside myself and pull out the strength that was really there the whole time.
Running gives me courage.
It gives me the courage to set big goals, goals so huge they leave me shaking. Courage to aim high, to dream, to go for it, to chase something new and exciting and intimidating.
Running has given me the knowledge that, without a doubt, I can do ANYTHING.
There is a certain pride that comes along with conquering new distances and crushing old PRs. In my 5th grade classroom, the kids are constantly setting small goals and big goals. Goals about how many books they will read this month, how many points of growth they will make on our reading assessment, how many facts they will answer correctly on a time test… In the “Grown Up World,” these concrete assessments are fewer and further between. Running gives us a chance to set goals, big goals, to work hard to attain them, and then to leave them behind in the dust as we race to chase our next star. Running gives us a special pride and feeling of accomplishment with each milestone (and mile) we carry ourselves through.
I don’t know about you, but I like to flip back through my training log or early blog posts and race recaps and think about how far I’ve come as a runner. I will never be fast or have good form or win a race even if my life depended on it, but my gosh have I come far. And if a girl like me who cried and walked during the mile in elementary school can take on half-marathons and triathlons, I truly must be unstoppable.
Running has given me a healthy relationship with food for maybe the first time since childhood.
As someone who struggled with an eating disorder and body image issues for years, I can honestly tell you that few things have helped me see my body and food clearly like running has. Even though I’d considered myself recovered for a few years when I started running on a regular basis and training for races, when food became fuel, things changed for me. It was like something finally clicked—there is no good and bad. It’s not about calories or about low fat, non-fat, blah blah blah. It’s about, “This is what my body needs to reach the goals I am chasing.” It’s about, “My body works hard and deserves good quality fuel.” My body is not perfect, but when I look at it I no longer see imperfections and flaws and a useless thing that I am stuck with. I see a powerful, strong body that can carry me through miles and miles. I see beautiful muscles, powerful feet, strong bones, and I am grateful for it and love it in a way I once never thought I could.
Running gives me new friends.
There’s that great moment when you meet someone and find out that they’re a runner—“You’re a runner? Me too!” Then there’s that moment when you convince one of your friends to start running, my personal favorite.
There’s also that great moment when you’re standing around at the starting line of a race, realizing that you are surrounded by “your people” and that you are all bonded together by that common experience. There’s that moment when you find a new buddy to run with and discover you make a fantastic team.
Running friends are just special friends, plain and simple.
(That being said…)
Running gives me time alone with my thoughts.
Life’s busy. It’s noisy, stressful, and full of distractions. In the classroom, I am pretty much being pulled in 20 directions at any given moment. At home, there is always a phone or a computer or a TV show or a book to grab my thoughts. Few times during the day am I as alone and quiet in my own mind as on a run. Whether it’s with music or just with nature, running is my own special time to myself.
Running gives me adventures.
I’m a sucker for a themed race or a race that gives me an excuse to travel. In the past two years, running has taken me on some fun adventures. It’s taken me to Atlanta and through a former Olympic mountain biking course and a giant mud pit with my best friend in the Atlanta Muddy Buddy.
It’s taken me to Disney World, giving me a wonderful race and weekend with my dad and brother. It’s taken me to Kentucky and through Churchill Downs, giving me an excuse for a girls weekend with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. It’s even taken me onto the field in a professional football stadium. It’s taken me down roads and trails that I’ve lived near for 20 years but never explored. But probably the most important adventure has been the adventure of running itself—of becoming a runner.
It turns out, at the end of the day, running may take, take, take…
but then it turns around and it gives, gives, gives, gives, gives….
What has running given you?