You know the “reasons to be fit” or “why I run” things you see all over Pinterest and Tumblr?
To feel strong…to be better than I was before…to get in shape…to look good in a bikini…to look good in my wedding dress…it’s cheaper than therapy…etc etc etc…
I used to think that, in general, none and all of them applied to me. Sure, I run to stay in shape, for the “endorphin high,” to improve my race times, all that jazz. But none of those are the single driving force behind why I lace up my Brooks most days.
The thing is, running is just something I’ve (almost literally) always done. My elementary school had a track team, which my parents signed me up for when I was six. Our “practices” were running laps around the asphalt at school. While we were driving to my first ever meet, my dad told me he thought I should try the 800 meter — two laps around the track.
Little 6-year-old Allison didn’t know any better, so she said okay. And we got to the track and I “jogged a warm-up lap” with some of the “big kids” and thought “This is so far! I don’t know if I can run this!”
But I did, and I did it again, and again, and again, for pretty much every single track meet up through the 8th grade. I was far from the best or fastest runner (there was another girl my age who was one of my only consistent “competitors” and she usually smoked me by at least 30 seconds), and I don’t really remember if I even liked it that much or not (actually, some of my fondest memories of those track meets are getting donuts at the snack stand after my race), but I just kept going out there and doing it.
Then in high school, I joined the cross country team and it was the single best decision I ever made (and again, it was really at my parents’ suggestion — I initially joined the team figuring it would get me in shape for soccer). The coach and team were AMAZING and for the first time, I truly fell in love with running. (The blog header image is my team when we made it to the state meet sophomore year, btw.) I made varsity, but again, was nowhere near the best or fastest and didn’t join any team in college. But I kept running. Sporadically some years, more regularly in others. Towards the end of college I ran my first half marathon. Eventually, I ran a full marathon (after years of swearing I’d never do something so crazy). Now I’m entertaining thoughts of maybe, one day, trying for an ultra. Maybe.
For awhile, I tried to insist that I truly enjoyed the act of running, that it wasn’t something I hated but forced myself to do for some supposed reward (a smaller size, a healthier heart, mental clarity, whatever). And I do. But there are definitely runs or times during runs (like the last 12 miles or so of a marathon) when I’m really not enjoying any part of it.
Then I realized what it was when I ran the La Jolla Half Marathon a couple months ago.
I like who I am when I run.
I don’t run with music, ever. I listen to podcasts on the treadmill but that’s because treadmills are terribly boring, and I usually use them for speedwork so I need to distract myself from the intensity and pain. And I rarely run in groups — most of my runs are solo or with my dog. So it’s just me out there with myself for company. And, somewhat surprisingly, I actually really enjoy that company.
I lecture myself, I think back to how stupid I was when I did XYZ last week or month or year, I worry about where I’ll be in five years, if I’m on the right track in my career, what I’m gonna do about whatever issue I’m having. I replay embarrassing or unpleasant memories and cringe.
But I also support myself. Tell myself to focus on the positive. Tell myself not to worry so damn much. I make jokes. I observe things around me. I think about what I’m going to eat later. I plan my week. I make up stories. Sometimes I just zone out. In my own mind, when I’m running, I’m the funniest, wittiest sumbitch I’ve ever met. And it’s an honest-to-God pleasure to spend 30-60+ minutes, 5 or 6 days a week, in my own company.
This means that, when I’m not running, no, I don’t always like myself that much. I’m super critical and hard on myself, I compare myself to Facebook friends and other people on the Internet, I make mistakes and screw up and don’t react appropriately to certain life events and I’m not always a good friend and I forget birthdays and don’t eat healthy or make doctor’s appointments when I should. I’m not exactly an easy person to get along with (seriously, ask my dad. Or my husband) and sometimes I get really, really down on myself.
But not when I run.