Why do I run?

There’s a quote from Dorothy Beal of Mile Posts that is so simple and at the same time so profound about running. Paraphrased, she says that she runs because running is really training for life. If you can train for and run a marathon, and compare that stress to that comes up over the course of a lifetime, running really is the easier option and great preparation.

February will be seven years since I started running. Originally I just wanted to do something different from lifting and cross-training on the elliptical. Then as I actually started to run, my mindset and motivation shifted. I know I’ve said this before on here, and I still chuckle at myself in spite of how immature it is, but I’m going to repeat it anyway.

I was not – and honestly never will be – athletically gifted, which was something I used to get bullied for in school. Gym class was atrocious, especially in fourth grade. One of my worst antagonists was a girl named Heather, and during a relay race when I wasn’t running fast enough to Heather’s liking, she decided to scream at me that I was a “freaking idiot.”

I internalized that for a while. Which honestly was stupid but hey – who’s really bulletproof to bullying, especially at the age of 10? She wasn’t the only one, but she was the worst and that particular memory stuck with me until my sophomore year of high school, when the gym requirement ended. When I first started running and would complete a mile, and then another and a third after that, my celebratory battle cry was “F**k you Heather!”

In the moment it was cathartic – and I always made sure that absolutely nobody was around to hear me – but eventually I realized dwelling on a gym class insult at 10 when I was 24 was kinda stupid. The urge to quiet down stupid voices from the past was quickly replaced by the runner’s high, so my battle cry was changed to something less profane.

Over the past seven years I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by the road and trails. The progression from 5k to 10k to a half marathon and then ultimately running a full – which I never would have put on my life bingo card pre-running – was addicting. From 2016 until 2019 I was obsessed with running all the miles and races. I loved the struggle, the challenge and then ultimately the pride once it was all done. And medals. I do love me some race medals.

But like all relationships, you have ebbs and flows. 2020 saw a dip thanks to what was going on in my personal life and in the world around us. This lasted until August 2021, when I was back to work, newly and peacefully single and no longer experiencing that fog of depression. I ran the Columbus full that October, knowing that I wasn’t going to be as fast as I liked but not overly concerned with my pace either. I was just glad to be doing something normal again. I even registered for my spring races and took my high from running Columbus in October into the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon three weeks later.

Quite frankly, this might be one of my stupidest running decisions to date. In years past I ran Columbus and Indy in the same season. I felt pretty good after Columbus in spite of my training not being what it used to be, so I figured I could impress myself at Indy three weeks later. This was Marathon #10 and it would be monumental.

Yeah, it wasn’t.

I was way too cocky and got humbled around Mile 7 of 26.2. That race was awful. But I was going to be optimistic about 2022’s running. Like the old saying goes, good things take time to build or in my case rebuild, so I would learn my lesson from 2021 and hit the ground running in 2022.

Losing and grieving Grandpa turned every part of my world upside down. My strength and body was shot along with my mind and desire to do anything that once brought me joy. I still ran the three spring half marathons I registered for – Bluegrass, Canaan Valley and Cleveland. The runs themselves were not good at all and my times were disappointing. I often found myself wondering why the hell I was even doing this to myself. My heart wasn’t in the race – am I just doing this to get my money’s worth of the race fee and hotel reservation?

Those three races were tough, although I’m glad I ran them. If nothing else, I got to get out of Columbus. Short road trips, escaping to do something happy-maling with Mom, getting to relax a little and crossing West Virginia off my bucket list are always worth it and at that point in my grief, I would grasp at anything that could spark joy and make me feel like Old Me again.

Now this brings me to 2023. Every year the answer always shifts, usually depending on how the previous year went and what I want to accomplish in the new one. So here it is, the answer to why I’m running in 2023:

Because it’s time to celebrate what I can do again.

In both running and life, everyone goes through a valley. That you’ll come out on the other side is usually guaranteed, but not knowing the answer to when is what draws the darkness out, multiplies it and suffocates us. I’m on the other side of that valley, after getting help in my personal life and finally getting 2022 behind me. And in honor of what I’ve learned about myself along the way and what I’ve had to overcome, I want to celebrate who I am on the present and what I know I can do again.

After scrolling through and re-reading a few of my recent posts, I noticed I kept referring back to 2018 as one of my best running years. Which it was, don’t get me wrong. But I was 26, five years younger, and hadn’t gone through that valley yet. I’d been through other valleys, and was carrying some buried heartache from them with me on a subconscious level, but this past year was the first I’ve had to confront myself while I was hitting rock bottom, get help and then pull myself back up.

Now I’m 31. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons, and acknowledge some painful truths about myself that came back to the surface after losing Grandpa. That buried heartache was back in full swing, and I’ve been listening to professionals who went through the same thing I once did talk about it. Some of those talks reduced me to tears, but they were also validating and vindicating. I’m not going to declare myself all healed, since I literally just started that inner work a few weeks back and it’s too soon. But I can say that decades of woundedness finally getting a name and being able to reparent myself through it has done wonders. I feel lighter and the world around me is bright again.

Who would I be if I didn’t celebrate the light of the woman I am now – at age 31, admittedly with a little bit of Christmas fluff hanging on – and get back to those trails and races, in honor and celebration of what this older ‘n wiser, optimistic and determined body can do? If I can experience a rebirth of my mind and heart, why can’t my body also get back to being a lean(ish), mean, pavement-pounding machine? And because I have the gift of life back – why wouldn’t I celebrate it by doing one of the hardest things you can, as confirmation that everything around me may hurt and not be pleasant in the moment, but is undeniably real? Just being alive and able to run at all is worth celebrating.

So Reader-Friends, 2023’s training cycles and run happy-ing is a celebration for the moment right now, for the beauty of the world around me right now. It’s high time to have a good time.

Yours in running and life,

Allison

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