When people learn that I do long distance running for “fun,” I often get,“You’re an inspiration,” and, “You’re crazy,” and sometimes, “Why?” all with a note of respect in their voice. Whenever I have these interactions, I think to myself, “Yep, if only you knew. Don’t be impressed.”
I really, really, REALLY love running and I can’t imagine what my life would be without it. The once in a lifetime experiences I have had and the deep friendships I have made are ones that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have pushed myself past limits that I did not think possible and have surprised myself often with how much strength I had within me. It is something I do just for me. But, I don’t think people understand what it is that motivates me to run as much as I do.
I run because I am a deeply anxious person and running helps.
Every single morning, for as long as I can remember, I have woken up with a sense of dread and a pit in my stomach. It does not matter if I slept well or not, it does not matter if I have a perfectly wonderful day planned. Anxiety, after all, doesn’t care about any of that.
The minute that I am upright, the inner dialogue in my head that I am so very familiar with begins. The voices in my head tell me that today is going to suck, it tells me that I suck and that I did some terrible things yesterday. Then, a list of all of the things I did the day before that were terrible (no matter how minute) start to scroll through my head. As that list ticks along, I hear another voice. The one that tells me to go back to bed and skip my run. Most days I can ignore those voices long enough to get dressed and out the door.
The miracle of running for me is that the minute that I put on my shoes the voices stop. The minute that I step outside, the voices come back on but they are gentler and much more reasonable. It is then that I can settle out my monkey mind. Maybe I didn’t set up my kid for years of therapy because I made some off-hand remark. Maybe my friend isn’t mad at me because I forgot to call her back. And maybe my kids aren’t going to die because we had take-out last night instead of a healthy home-cooked meal.
The longer I run, the better I feel. This is made exponentially better if I have a friend or two with me. By the time I come back home, I am a new human. I am ALWAYS glad I went out the door no matter how hard the run, no matter what the weather. I have quieted down the voices in my head and I am ready to take on the day.
Sometimes, running is the target of my anxiety: I’m too slow, I am not a real runner and I have no business signing up for that ultra I have my eye on. Sometimes I listen to those voices and stay in bed and my days do not go well but I try to be kind to myself anyway. When that happens, I turn to yoga and oftentimes a trusted friend and/or therapist. Sometimes, when the anxiety gets too much, I must re-evaluate what I have on my plate and scale back for a while.
To be clear, I have an amazing life. One that I am grateful for and do not take for granted. But, I also have a really damaging inner dialogue that sometimes gets me down.
I know there are those out there who struggle with anxiety and depression, who fight hard to get out of bed and get their kids off to school and/or get themselves to work. I know that exercise often helps me but it does not work for everyone. I know that we all struggle some days and maybe we need to be a little kinder to ourselves and one another.
Self-care for me has never been about bubble baths and pedicures. It has always been about learning how to accept myself with all of my sensitivities and flaws so that I can be the best mom, partner, sister and friend that I can be. I also continue to learn how to be okay with not always getting it right.
When you see smiling pictures of me at the finish line of a race, know that what you see is much more than a goal being reached. What you see in that smile, if you look into my eyes, is that I fought my demons and won.
At least for that day.