13.1 miles of gratitude.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A few weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon.

Completing a distance race had been a long-time goal of mine for quite some time, but never seemed quite within reach. It was in the back of my head, not significant enough to be warranted a priority, and yet still refusing to be forgotten. When I moved to Monterey, in the summer of 2016, I told myself 2017 would be the year I would run a half marathon, and complete my goal.

Throughout that summer and early fall, I started training, on a treadmill at the student gym on campus. It felt good, to be running again. It felt right, to be back in my athletic gear and sipping gatorade after my workouts. It felt like I was home. 

Shortly after that, my workouts began to diminish as I started getting sick. It became less of a priority, less of an important part of my life, and the dream of finishing a half marathon in 2017 seemed like an impossible goal once I went on medical leave in January of this year. I let myself forget about it, quite easy if I say so myself, as being at rock bottom gave me enough to think about.

On a warm summer day in June of this year, I decided to go for a run. I mumbled something about needing to get my mind off of things as I walked out of my parents' house – my dad seemingly aware that more was going on. When I stepped outside and starting trotting along, the emotional weight I had been carrying, full of regrets, questions, disappointment, and everything that comes post-breakup,felt heavier than ever before. I tried to turn up my music and block it out, as I slowly ran along my neighborhood streets, wanting so desperately to think about anything else than my broken heart. 

And pretty soon, my body, which hadn't had a real workout in six to nine months, began begging for a break. My legs ached, my chest felt on fire, and my forehead dripped sweat. I had barely made it down a few blocks before I needed to stop, catch my break, and stretch my aching calves. I made myself keep going, if only because the pain gave me a focus point. Something I'd been searching for since an email landed in my inbox at the end of April, and made my world break apart. I finally had something else to think about, if only for the short time I was out on my run. And it was addicting.

I ordered a new pair of running shoes that night when I got home.
The next week, I signed up for the Two Cities Half Marathon in November.
And then I started training, mile after mile after mile.

The thought of finishing a half marathon in January, when I was so sick, felt impossible. But here, in late June, I felt a spark of hope. I felt like I had a goal I could accomplish. And I was determined to make it happen.

Thanksgiving was yesterday, and as I reflected on so much I have to be thankful for this year, one thing stuck out beyond the rest – my decision to start running again. It was simple, coming out of a desperate need for a distraction from heartbreak and pain, but it turned into something so much more significant.

It has become, in the worlds of the minimalists, something that adds immense value to my life. And so, I chose to dedicate my time and resources towards that. I spend an average of 10-12 hours in the gym per week. I could be doing something else with my time, but I don't want to. I want to spend my time on a treadmill, sweating until my shirt is soaked and running until my legs are shaking. I chose to spend my resources on training supplies and race entry fees. I want to feel the runner's high when I finish a race or feel the weight of a medal around my neck. I want to sink deep into a community of like-minded people, in person or online, who share similar stories of how running has changed their lives: breakups, sickness, injury, or otherwise...we share a similar antidote. Something that eased the pain, and suddenly became an addictive source of energy and reassurance, that even if everything else hurt, we could still go out and do something positive for ourselves. That we could still reach the finish line.

I didn't know what to expect during my first race. I assumed I would be tired, I would hit the dreaded "wall" runners speak of during a race. I just wanted to finish, to prove to myself that even though 2017 was the biggest shit show I've ever experienced, I had it within me to finish something I've wanted to do for so long, despite everything the world had thrown at me this year. I remember nerves as I crossed the starting line with hundreds of other runners. I kept telling myself to "run my own race," trying to block out the runners passing me as I took my first regulated walk break. That would follow me as we spread out from the initial starting pack, and I settled into my pace. 

I thought the race would feel harder than it did. And of course, of points it felt agonizing. No one prepared me for the sloped hills up Friant, giving my shins a workout as I pressed through the middle miles. But for the majority of the race, I felt joyful. I was finally doing something I've wanted to do for so long. And I focused on that, through each mile, past each spectator, with each step. I'm doing it. I couldn't help the positive energy deep within myself. I had worked for this, from that lone summer day, up until now.

Crossing the finish line was one of the best experiences I've ever had. I remember hearing my name announced, a medal placed around my neck, and the man who had been running in front of my for most of the race turn around to give me a high-five. My parents and a few friends met me shortly after. I couldn't help smiling. I was the happiest I'd been, in a very long time.

I took a few days off after the race, and then I started running again.

I didn't expect running to become such a significant part of my life after finishing my race, but it has. I like to think it's partially filled the void that this season created in my life, giving me something to invest in. I've learned that if something is important and adds value to your life, you will make the time for it, and allocate your resources to it. Not because you feel pressured to, but because it is important to you. It doesn't matter how busy I am, or whether I could be spending my time doing something else, I make time for the gym and a run, because I value it and want to invest in it. It is a high priority in my life now, because I believe it helped me turn my life around.

And so this year, I am thankful I decided to start running again, and all the incredible things that have come with that decision. For the 13.1 miles I ran a few weeks ago, my heart full each and every step of the way. For the friends I've made on the road and in the gym, for my parents and their never-ending support. I'm thankful for how free I feel when I am running, for sweaty mornings and late nights at the gym. I'm thankful that it has caused me to deeply appreciate my physical and mental health, not to mention immensely benefited it as well.

And the best part?
There is still more to come.

I plan on running more miles and more races this next year.
And I'm looking forward to reaching the finish line for each and every one.


Respectfully submitted,
Leah

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