Last week I went for a run after class. It was supposed to be an easy run. All my runs are easy runs currently. You could say they have a presumption of easiness. Easy until proven ready. Last week I was ready.
In the first five minutes, I decided I would run a fartlek. I finished my 10 minute warm up, and quickly googled a fartlek sequence since I’m a bit out of practice. I chose one, standing at the top of the hill by the train tracks. I reset my watch, and for the next 20 minutes, I enjoyed the challenge of speed play by the river. When I was finished, I ran my cooldown back toward the city skyline and felt satisfied – with my efforts and with my decision. At the end of my spontaneous fartlek, I felt, and I still feel, optimistic.
It’s taken a long time for me to reach this place with running.
I started running long distance 10 years ago. I picked it up in college. I had an eating disorder and running a half marathon was pretext for burning as many calories as I could each day. I still remember the first time I ran 6 miles. I was so weak afterward that I laid on the floor in my dorm until I mustered the strength to walk to the nearest convenience store and buy a Gatorade. I was a runner. I was sick, but I was a runner.
I realized I had a problem during my sophomore year of college. I would stay in while my friends went out. I would stay in and criticize myself and cry about the fettuccine Alfredo I had for dinner. I signed up for another half marathon. I quickly became injured and had to attend physical therapy for the first time.
How to succeed in running without really trying: end of university. I signed up for a couple more half marathons and ran sub-2s each time. I literally still have no idea how I did this – I had no idea what I was doing! The worst part is that each sub-2 felt easy, so I got cocky fast. I didn’t get professional help for my eating disorder, but I had created a support system. I was trying to self-remedy the situation. I generally enjoyed running during this time, but my mind was still obsessing over the miles and my meals.
At age 23, I relapsed into my eating disorder hard. I was also training for my first full marathon. During that training cycle, I was raped by a person I had trusted. I became suicidal. I went to a rehab facility when I could physically not eat a bowl of blueberries but cried at the thought instead. I was running 50 mile weeks. The intake supervisor told me I had clinical depression and orthorexia. She told me I should attend intensive outpatient therapy and stop training for the marathon. I said, “Hell no,” and off I went. I ran the marathon, and my grandfather called me crying, telling me how proud he was of me. He apologized for being unable to be there. I crumbled. I went out of my way the next evening and drove two hours south to surprise him with my medal. He died 14 days later.
Enter the period of my twenties in which I constantly lied to myself about running (and many other things).
I had some fun at this age. I started writing for Salty Running! I ran a couple destination races that I was not trained for whatsoever. Brutal heat in the Chicago Rock n Roll Half and the Nashville Half humbled me. I realized I couldn’t just run whatever I wanted without really training after running a marathon. I was not invincible, and I learned that. I learned that slacking off achieved absolutely nothing. I also learned that I love running trails. Trails became my escape from the daily grind. I hated my job. Loved the dirt. I went every day after work.
I got a stress fracture from all the chaos I survived. Poor eating and too many untrained miles. During this break, I had what I lovingly call my quarter-life crisis (as if the entirety of my twenties had not been a crisis up to that point). I decided I needed to make a move and stop going through the motions. I became an au pair in Spain until I figured it out. It was a great decision. I did figure it out; I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I also decided to complete a triathlon for fun. I had one of the slowest times, but I was the happiest competitor.
While in Spain, I recovered from my stress fracture and signed up for the Malaga Half Marathon. I trained intensely, using the Hansons Method. It was the first time in a training cycle that I had a time goal. I peaked at 45 mile weeks, and I ran hundreds of miles by the Mediterranean Sea. It was winter in Spain. I trained through January, February, and March. The orange trees were in bloom, and it never fell below 55 degrees in daylight. It was heaven. In mid-morning on a late winter day, I PRed in southern Spain.
27 to Present
I took a healthy break from running, and started law school. Now, I’m soon to finish. I was able to have a healthy relationship with running my first year. It was a welcome break from the stack of books constantly on my desk.
My second year made it trickier. I began working for a firm, and the coursework of second year combined with my job made running another thing on the to-do list. My anxiety and depression skyrocketed, and I put running away for nearly a year. The irony is that it hurt my anxiety, but helped my depression. Thankfully, medicine treats both.
I’ve been slowly easing back into running. I miss the adrenaline of racing and the drive of having a goal. I signed up for my first trail race in November. I look forward to getting to the starting line as healthy as I can. I do not have a goal time. I just want to run around the forest for a couple of hours. My goal for the winter is to remain active, but also to be gentle and understanding with myself.
Running is strange. At times, it’s been my friend, my enemy, and my therapist. It’s opened my eyes to a problem I didn’t realize I had. It’s given me the strength to go on. I look forward to developing this relationship into my thirties and beyond.