On running, strength and the promise of cheap beer

The scenic view from my couch, site of every post-run collapse.

The scenic view from my couch, site of every post-run collapse.

I’ve been reflecting on why I run. “Reflection” is perhaps too generous, too refined a word for a moment rooted in my literal uphill battle (thanks, Grand Avenue). In typical life-writer fashion, though, I find the physical experience of running provides a natural, albeit slow, somewhat tedious path to issues I couldn’t address in a sensible way.

And believe me, I’ve tried myriad coping mechanisms over the years.

Yoga isn’t exactly my jam due to the whole sitting-still/being Zen factor. My journal entries typically feature words stretched like a slinky (i.e. “whyyyyyy) per my latest 20-something crisis. Emotionally charged baking sessions calmed my existential-turmoil-prone side for some time, until I realized butter and inner peace weren’t a cause-and-effect duo. Then came running.

In four months of training for the upcoming Des Moines Half Marathon, my mile time has remained much the same — 10-ish minutes of “Whyyyyyy did I decide registering for this was a good idea?” About halfway through my run, though, I reach the desired pace, one no longer under the control of Iowa humidity or the despair/doubt that come with the initial miles of a long distance trek. My body and brain, at last, feel in control.

In that moment of, “Well, I think I can maybe do this?” I realize control over my body has long been a quiet quest in my life, one I’ve fought forever but failed to confront before running.

“You’re a twig.” That’s the one I hated the most growing up, the comment that left me paralyzed. A twig is something outside forces move, guide and control. I wanted so badly to say, “I’m not a twig,” but I suppose in the psychological sense I was, allowing hurtful commentary to decide the status of my physical health and wellbeing.

Running has helped me reclaim my strength and own exactly what health means for me, not somebody else. I set my training routes. I set mileage goals. I slow down when I need to and run faster, farther when I can.

After four months of intense training by my generally unathletic standards, I’m not that much faster, but I can run for a couple hours straight, and I feel stronger. Example: I was ‘chosen’ to play outfielder in first-grade T-ball, which is the ultimate form of rejection at age 6.

I’m not too worried about my time come the race in October. I have three relatively simple goals: 1. Keep my own pace. 3. Take a post-race picture biting my medal like Rafael Nadal. 3. Drink plenty of cheap, celebratory beer at the finish line.

Cheers to existential epiphanies, the glacial crawl up Grand and my uncanny knack for running into a cute guy in the elevator exclusively post-run.

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