Two years ago, I wrote about why I run and it's painful to read today. I used to run to escape, to forget about a body that I hated and a mind that was in turmoil. Today, I run because I can because it fills me up and relaxes me and because I can run farther than anyone ever imagined and that I ever thought possible. I run today because God gave me this body, and I am going to take care of it. Because it helps me to be okay with myself. This picture
is a reflection of how I feel now when I look back at the woman I was two years ago. I'm kind of disgusted at her. But then I realize that I had to be her and I had to be honest and that it was that very honesty that has set me here in a much better place. A place where I can love myself enough to do better. I used to run to forget about myself. Now I run to remember. And though I'm more aware of who I am now, I never want to forget the ugly place in which I used to dwell. Here is an excerpt from the piece I wrote back then when things were messy and confusing.
I’ve seen myself use flattery as a vessel to fill my ego to the bursting point. And when it bursts, it’s ugly. Before I left for my run, the mirror was my enemy, showing me distortions, fat legs, ugly face, huge pores, thin lips. What once was a cute haircut became limp and lifeless in the mirror. My sparkly eyes looked slanty and funny-looking. My butt looked too round and my calves, too defined. In the mirror, it’s hard to look away as I critique each eyebrow hair; each blackhead that lives on my nose that is way too big and pronounced. My chin gets a dimple that can only be taken away by surgery and my spider veins become very red and blue and purple. I’m too pale, too plain, too average. The mirror reflects a face filled with discontent. The face reflects a heart filled with the wrong things for too long. Flattery has lead to the ruins of my thoughts and my outlook and my soul. I think I’ll never again let flattery inflate me, because I don’t like what I look like when the bubble bursts. It’s ugly. And so I run. And while I run, my mind keeps racing, thinking thoughts that turn my strong calves into flab city. And yet I keep going, thinking, waxing poetic to myself.
Thinking about how I leave the mirror often half of the woman I was when I arrived before it. I walk away and fill my mind with something else, like TV or music. I watch perfect people prance around the screen in my living room. I compare. I pick. I decide I’m a mess. I take a walk because I can’t take the feel of my thighs any longer. Walking doesn’t do it though. I have to run. And so, I do. Fast and furious. My legs moving more rapidly than my heart so that it’s hard to keep up. My mind racing, like it always is. Except, outside, I think about things like summer and swimsuits and tans and blond hair and perfect people. I think that if I could just run a bit faster or a block farther, I could be a perfect person, too. I keep going, checking my watch, keeping my time. When twenty minutes isn’t long enough, I make it thirty. Then forty. Then, I’m going to the gym after my run, or I’ll ride my bike. I’ll con someone into riding with me so that I’m not so alone, so afraid of myself. I’ll stay out until dark when I get too scared, too enveloped by the blackness to care about my thighs or my upper arms or that place in my lower back that I just can’t seem to rid of fat - ever. It’s probably late by now, almost time for dinner, which I will toil over for hours. What to make, how much fat, will I take time to savor each bite, or will I shovel it down like a crazy person. Like the person I feel I am when it’s late and I’m hungry and I don’t know why I haven’t eaten anything yet. Preparation comes next and then it’s time to eat, pick by pick, noodle by noodle. I get full because my lunch was light and my stomach feels weird. I wonder if the calories I burnt during my run will be enough to cancel out my dinner. I wonder if I should do the dishes now, or just leave them in the sink hoping they will disappear. But, I can’t leave them. So I wash and dry and wash and dry and then, I go to bed. Dreaming of accidentally eating a candy bar, or of running into my old crush and finally telling him how I felt and crying and screaming and feeling like I have no eyes or that the air is being sucked from my lungs. And then, it’s morning and it all starts again. My stomach is bloated. My legs feel huge. Too huge to wear the jeans I wanted to. I don’t even try them on. I know they won’t fit. I want to wear sweats, to hide behind yards of cotton. To sink into the couch all day and forget about my body. But, I can’t. I have responsibilities that I can’t stop thinking about. A job, a husband, a family, friends. But sometimes, I can’t seem to recall when everything changed and I was thrust into adulthood without warning or a choice.
And as I was thinking all of this, my legs kept going. I kept running, up and down hills, past flowering bushes that set front yards on hot pink fire, past garbage collectors and skater girls. Past the boy with the long hair that always throws his Frisbee to the wind. The same boy whose black Labrador runs to the fence with a tennis ball in its mouth when I sprint by. All this was yesterday – and as I jogged, I couldn’t seem to understand how my tired body let me run all those miles and think all those thoughts. But it had. It was. I was running like I had somewhere to go. An appointment. A meeting that I would be late to if I didn’t push myself up that last hill, full speed. It was then, as I gasped for breath at the top of the steepest hill, that I realized why I run. The thirty minutes or hour I’m out, away from myself, from the place my body lives, soothes me. I run away in short bursts every day. Because, if I really ran away, I’d leave too much behind. Too many memories that have been made, and some that haven’t been made yet. I can’t run very far. I’m working up to eight miles. But never, ever farther. There are no marathons in my future. No cross-country runs Forrest Gump-style. None of that because, I have to come back. And, I always do. But even if I’m tired and dizzy and feeling too skinny or too fat, I run. I run because I can. Because it’s the only way I know how to forget about myself.
I run to leave behind the ego that has burst and to inflate it again with the knowledge that I have achieved a goal, that I can eat dinner without worry of weight gain, that I can enjoy two Hershey’s Kisses instead of just one. I run because it is what makes everything else okay. In the experiment of my life, it is my control, my factor that I can never, ever change. Because, in systematic inflation and deflation of the mess that is my ego, controlling my workout seems to control my crazy mind, making myself seem better, or at least average. And I am afraid that if I have to stop running, if something happens to my feet, if I can no longer tie on my running shoes – the shoes that take me down the streets and away from it all - that I might not know how to be okay. So until that day comes, I will continue to wear a path of sanity that takes me by quaint cottages and stout duplexes. The path that leads my feet, mind racing, through parks and villages, by barking dogs and crying babies and down the road of memories that has worn my mind to mush. The path that takes me everywhere beneath a sky that is always wearing its finest blue jacket.