After a year and a half in Spain, I recently moved home to Southern Ohio. As an Ohioan with strong family roots, I never planned on moving to Spain. Similarly, as a lifelong musician who chose arts over sports in school, I never planned on becoming a runner. Being a traveler and a runner were aspects of my life that grew from pain, baggage, and a need for control. Both are integral to my being, so leaving those behind to do some soul searching on long runs in Spain was not an easy feat.
I started running when I decided to train for my first half marathon in the middle of a body image crisis and while in the throes of an eating disorder. Admittedly, at that time I was not into the running for pleasure part. Train for this half, and you’ll be on a quick plan to being skinnier and no one will ask questions about it, was more my thinking. I trained on the country roads along the Ohio River, on an overgrown track behind my high school, and eventually moved my routes to the big(ger) city streets of Columbus. Somewhere among the water and the wild flowers, I realized that I, body and mind, deserved more than diet, exercise, and punishment. I learned to love running as soul food, not a punishment for eating food. Then, that’s when I became a runner.
In late 2014, I lost my grandfather to a long, heavy battle with pancreatic cancer. Even on his darkest days, he exuded sunshine. He was my hero, my biggest cheerleader, and he was intrigued by my love of long distance. As we were nearing the end, I often did my long runs before heading home to nap beside him. On the day that he died, I was cracked wide open — forever changed for better or worse, I would soon find out. Broken and restless, I bought a one-way ticket to Spain.
In Spain, I worked on creating a new self, while holding onto the parts of me I was proud of. Running was one of those. I worked to create a running home there. I ran by the beach every single day. I felt like every mile, every grain of salt from the sea, worked to heal me. I did things I’ve never done before, like a triathlon! I even tried a new training plan and crushed my PR. I loved Malaga. I loved so many people and so many places. But it just wasn’t the same.
The stub of that first plane ticket to Spain sits beside me on the counter in this old Ohio house, reminding me of that empty young woman waiting in the Chicago airport for the biggest adventure of her life. My medals hang on my childhood bedroom wall, reminding me where I started, and how far I’ve come, from crash dieting and running long distance to conquering my demons.
Today, I sit on my yoga mat on the front porch of my grandmother’s house, studying the yard; the dogwood tree and the rose bush, whose blooms are tattooed on my feet, constantly reminding me where I came from. I just returned from a run in which I saw the cardinal, my spiritual symbol of my grandfather, also tattooed on me, reminding me that I am always loved. Coming home feels so damn good.
I know every flag that decorates every intersection in this tiny, picturesque river town. These are the streets that made me a runner. While training for my first marathon, I ran dozens of loops around these small blocks to achieve my first 10 mile run. I used to finish my run at the local breakfast joint and join my grandparents for a sweet tea and breakfast feast. I know who owned the dogs that would chase me down the country roads if I dared to run on them. I know the number of blocks between the fire station and my childhood church. I know the number of potholes in the gravel with no sidewalk between the bridge and McDonald’s. This is my home. Life is easy here. Running is easy.
Where’s your running home?