Running is the last thing I want to do today. My calves are loaded with petulant resistance, and the ache of 2,000 inexplicable miles ran in the past year and a half.
But, I push off like I always do, and it’s still a slight surprise every time. My feet drum down on a path that always seems to both elude and gratify me. The pace is arrhythmic and the strides are awkward. My torso shifts around on top of squat legs. No. My body is not like those lean Olympians in Runner’s World. My body is a Jenga tower, lopsided in action and eternally poised to topple.
But, the inertia of movement helps me to forget my apparent absurdity. On the 101, runners ribbed with muscle sprint ahead. Ponytails flick and tick past me like minute hands that clock a sometimes mediocre pace. The voice in my head says, “You’re not running fast enough,” or, worse, “You’re not good enough.”
But, I push on.
And, this is the single greatest thing I’ve discovered about myself as a runner: I push on. Past the literal pain of shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, and the sore calf muscles. And, also, past the painful abstractions: the self-doubt, the anger, and the depression.
I became a runner two winters ago in Catonsville, Maryland. At the time, I was unhealthy on several floors of myself. If the house of a “self” is constructed of mind, body and soul, all three floors were suffering the wear of time and poor choices.
My body was flabby, and I generally preferred not to think about it. Instead of acknowledging my dire need for major life changes, I routinely scarfed down Taco Bell enchiladas and Wendy’s cheeseburgers with my stoner ex-boyfriend.
I also had an appetite for a variety of illicit substances. Heroin ritually crawled through my blood veins. When I couldn’t have heroin, coke sufficed. Junkfood and opiates medicated my sadness. Heroin may not have cured my depression, but it did help me float off and away from the reality of it.
My scatterbrained psychiatrist at the time prescribed Xanax and Viibryd to treat my depression. When I came up on Viibryd, my legs flailed and flounced restlessly for hours at night. My brain felt like taut guitar strings (strung too tight) that were plucked painfully, and repeatedly. It took several weeks to adapt to the 40mg dosage, and once I had, I didn’t necessarily feel happy. Just wired. Jittery. Like so many bored, self-indulgent Americans, popping a pill in a dark room lit only by a television screen was much easier than attempting to discern the root of my sadness.
My relationship, like other facets of my life, was a tepid affair. It was comfortable, and altogether uninspired. My boyfriend was complacent and content to cohabitate forever in our attic of long-expired passion. Although, I wonder if it was ever even there? He wiled away the hours playing Wii U in a cloud of ever-present marijuana smoke. My resentment grew daily, but I never left. I was afraid. Of what?
But, if anyone was going to reach deep down into their deflated soul, and discover some sort of salvation, it was going to have to be me. I hadn’t realized all of this yet. And, as a sidenote to anyone reading, it’s delusory to think that you can manufacture or force love. True love may take courage, but it is organic. Love is effortless. Love, if it’s truly there, will perpetuate in its perfection long after you perish —with the right person.
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;”
Bottomline: You cannot TRY to love someone. You either love them of you don’t.
One Fateful Morning
One morning of “no particular consequence,” I went for my first run. I can’t explain why it happened other than to reason that I’d probably reached breaking point. After all, I’d slept for 14 hours the previous night, half of which was heroin induced. I was sick of my lethargic indifference, and incapable of watching myself slowly die (although my boyfriend seemed unfazed by this fate). He dozed on the beige sheets of our bed in a stained undershirt and boxers, also dreaming the dragon dreams of too much heroin.
I craved the organic – something that didn’t come in a neon green dime bag. I longed for trees and flowers and deeply-felt life.
So, I ran.
I ran for approximately 1.5 miles with split times of 16 minutes. Each stride left me panting in agony. The next day I ran 1.38 miles. The next, 3.86.
But, there was something coming to fruition inside of me beyond the reached threshold of my physical pain. In the beginning, running was like unearthing an old trunk of childhood toys in my parents’ attic. It was a flashback to July evenings, the sun still alive and drizzling its honey over the stained glass sky at 8:30 pm. The fireflies were alight on the evening breeze and drifting over my sweaty body. I remembered feeling both electric and exhausted after a day spent romping through backyards and wading through Columbia creeks.
After taking such a lengthy hiatus from exercise, the experience of running was like greeting an old friend. It was a reunion and reassembly of the scattered parts of myself. For over a decade, I’d done my best to cover the bulges and curves of my body. But, running was an act of reacquainting and wedding myself to my body’s capabilities.
At the suggestion of a friend, I fueled my runs with fresh vegetable juices and plant-based meals. Retiring the junkfood diet purged my body, and uncluttered my mind. As I ran, I harnessed a sort of clarity. Running and eating properly allowed me to squarely assess my life, and the changes I needed to make if I was ever going to be happy.
I stopped doing heroin, too, which was surprisingly easy despite its notoriously addictive reputation. Once I became a runner, heroin made me sick. I didn’t derive the same lukewarm numbness anymore. It made me reel and vomit. My body rejected the artificial high of heroin in favor of natural endorphins. This, of course, is only one more example of how running saved my life.
I didn’t know it at the time, and the events that would later transpire, in consequence, were entirely unanticipated. But, I suppose when I began to run, I changed. As I transformed, the gap between the life I was living and the life I hoped to live became bridgeable.
Shortly therafter, I met the love of my life. I think that I met him because I was finally ready to meet him. Running literally and figuratively trimmed the excess and the excuses. It filled me with confidence, and demonstrated to me my own remarkable resilience and strength. It was then that I let go of the empty relationship I’d clung to for security with my ex-boyfriend, and gleefully pursued my explosive passion for the incredibly brilliant, and handsome man who is now my fiancé (! Happiest girl in the whole damn world !). To quote Joseph Campbell, I “followed my bliss,” and I haven’t looked back since (unless you count this blog). My fiancé and I now both live (and run) in Southern California.
Running has come to represent freedom to me. I live for Sausalito mornings where the dirt path winds unending behind the emerald California hillsides. Like a yellow brick road, off into Oz. I live for the gold plated clouds as the Carlsbad sun sinks into the depths of ocean with my sneaker prints in the sand. I live to run past the city fairs and docked boats of Santa Barbara, and past the enchanted, seaside cottages of Carmel. I live for the feeling that I am exactly where I always wanted, hoped and dreamed I would be… Mind, body and soul.