Happy Valentine’s Day, Running. You’ve been a constant love in my life for nearly two decades, and by “constant” I mean anything but. I ran a lot when I was younger, and then I didn’t, and then I gradually built my way back (with a handful of setbacks along the way). We’ve had a bumpy road, Running, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ve helped me feel physically strong. Sports never came naturally to me, and that fear of being picked last in gym class lingers in the back of my mind to this day. After an elementary lesson in basketball, I came home and told my mother that I would never make it because — can you belive it? — they expected me to run and dribble at the same time! Though basketball wasn’t my calling, I found other ways to be active. I danced and exercized and tennis’ed to stay in shape, then transitioned to running outdoors. Eventually I ran a little bit farther, and a little farther yet. In college when a friend asked me to train for a half marathon together, I said yes before fully processing just how far 13.1 miles really is. We trained so hard for that race, and though life and injuries prevented us from reaching the starting line of that particular event, you sparked something inside me that made me want to keep pushing. Now after completing multiple half and full marathons, you’ve helped me see how capable my body is and how much strength was there all along.
You’ve also helped me feel mentally and emotionally strong. Body image has been an endless struggle for the majority of my life, and far too often I continue to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. She’s so much faster than I am. I’ll never be able to keep up. How does she look so graceful when I turn red and sweaty two minutes after starting to run? Running, you’ve given me the tools to snap out of it and find perspective. It doesn’t matter if someone else’s stomach is flatter than mine or if another runner can run faster or farther than I can. None of that has any impact at all on my own running. My race is my own. Another runner’s speed doesn’t make me any slower, and someone else’s stomach doesn’t change a thing about my own body.
You’ve given me something to work toward, and a daily source of motivation. During stretches where I’ve felt lost or unfulfilled professionally, defining myself as a runner (and eventually — gasp — a marathoner) helped me feel proud and worthy. When I’ve felt heartbroken, you’ve given me a reason to get out of bed and literally put one foot in front of the other. You’ve taught me that I’m not just one dimensional, and by building my confidence as an athlete, I’ve found more confidence in other areas of my life as well.
You’ve introduced me to so many amazing people. For years I convinced myself I didn’t belong in the running community because I wasn’t a real runner. The few times I tried a running group, I was the slowest one and either was left behind or — arguably worse — pitied by someone who seemed noticably bored to be running at my pace. Recently, you’ve helped me conquer this fear and realize that it doesn’t have to be like this. You’ve helped me build a different type of community, and in the process I’ve learned that no matter how isolated we felt, there are so many other runners in this exact same boat. The warmth and acceptance amongst runners far outweighs the competition. I cherish the running friends I’ve made, and the support they’ve provided both on and off the trail can never be repaid.
You’ve helped me find my voice. Sharing my experiences through the lens of running over the last seven years has helped me grow as a writer and a storyteller. You’ve taught me that we have more in common than we always realize, and my seemingly unique story of a middle-aged, middle-paced, middle-confidence marathoner has helped me connect with people of all walks of life. The more common ground we can find with one another, the more hope we have of building anything worthwhile.
Most importantly, you’ve helped me find myself. You’ve given me joy and purpose, and you’ve helped me be honest about what truly makes me feel healthy and happy. There’s no such thing as faking it on a run. Every feeling, good or bad, is authentic, and you’ve helped me apply that authenticity across the board.
I can’t imagine my life without you, Running, and I truly don’t want to. Thank you for everything.