My Love-Hate Relationship with Running (Emphasis on Hate)
For those people who are considered “runners,”—you know the type, the naturally gifted ones who go for a six mile run as a WARM UP? The ones who don’t even break a sweat after running a friggen marathon? The ones who aren’t panting or even remotely out of breath after running but instead are somehow glistening?—what the hell is a runners high and how do I get one? What’s your secret? Is it some special foot cream? Is it when the stars align just right and you do a little dance in the moonlight? Please don’t say it’s in all those salads you eat because in that case, I’m screwed.
I have a love-hate relationship with running—emphasis on hate. I have never considered myself a runner. And not in like the, “I only run a mile or two occasionally on cardio days,” way. I’ve never even experienced a “cardio day.” I mean I am not a runner in the way like I used to say I had to go to the bathroom during the first ten minutes of PE class when they’d force us to jog to “Check Yes Juliet” by We The Kings. My gym teacher wasn’t fooled but didn’t care enough...or she thought I had IBS. The only two sports I've ever played were chosen solely by the fact that they required the least amount of running: volleyball and softball. Both require little to no running, only self defense when a ball comes barreling at you. Everyone knew this fact about me. So much so, that if by some stroke of luck I actually got on base while playing softball, my coach put in a pinch runner for me. Meaning one of my teammates would come and run the bases for me, in my place. ...Yeah. Have I mentioned I am not a runner? When I start moving at any pace above a brisk walk every cell in my body—nay, every fiber of my soul—screams, “NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” In fact, let me introduce you to sixteen-year-old Cher’s internal monologue when forced to run during practice:
“Oh. my. GOD. This sucks. Why do we need to do this? Oh my god, you’re falling behind. WHY ARE YOU SO SLOW? SPEED UP! ...NO, NO, SLOW DOWN! CAN’T BREATHE. Oh goddddd, is that the boys lacrosse team? GREAT. Now they’re gonna know how weird you look when you run. OW. This really hurts. FOCUS. How are we gonna get through this? I know, I know! If you finish this run, you can slack off the rest of practice and when we get home we’ll eat a nice big cookie. OR better yet, we’ll take a nap! Doesn’t that sound nice? UGH, what’s the point you’ll never be good at this or anything else. Oh god, can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. CAN'T BREATHE! STOP, STOP, STOOOPPPP!”
I have been telling myself I am not a runner since middle school (maybe even before then), but that is a lie. I have told myself I “can’t” run because it is so much easier than admitting that running is hard. It has never been easy for me and I have always envied the people who genuinely found it enjoyable and natural. As someone who has always considered myself to be an athlete, nothing made me feel more weak than falling behind and struggling to finish a run.
When the pandemic hit, I didn’t know what else to do to get me out of my funk other than read self-help books. As I mentioned in previous posts, those books were my life lines. And then I started to notice a common theme: all of these strong, powerful women I look up to...run. Almost all of my mentors were telling me how helpful running was for them in their healing process or their overall well being. But I was resolute. “Psh...but I’m not a runner. I can’t do that. Maybe I’ll try yoga or something.”
Until finally, my self-care guru Tara Schuster started making some sense. “I hate running,” she writes. YES! See? Someone knows. But then...“Getting breathless hurts. But exercise gets me out of my spinning head. It’s a moving meditation that forces me to feel my body, be present, and focus on a goal: Just get the running done.” After reading this, I came to a hard hitting realization: it was never supposed to be “easy” or “fun,” but the important part is that it is the kind of nurturing my body and my mind deserves...fine. You win people. I’ll give it a try.
Let me just clarify that if my boredom and overall mental state was at the point where I was willing to try running...you know I hit rock bottom. But this time I was setting rules for myself. Before I set out on that very first run I told myself, “Cher, you are not a runner. Which means that even by stepping out this door in running shoes, means you have accomplished something today. It doesn’t matter how far you go, only that you do this.” So I told myself to run to the end of the block. That’s it. Just to the end of the block. Miraculously, I made it. And you wanna know what’s even wilder? The next day I did it again. And the next day. And the next day, until I was running around my entire development and I didn’t stop. After running consecutively for a couple weeks, I asked myself, “Why, after all this time, is this working?” Sure, the fact that I was able to set my own pace and I no longer cared if the people in my neighborhood thought my duck-waddle run looked silly probably helped. But the real game changer? My internal monologue found a new voice.
“Alright, we can do this. We’ve done harder things before. Let’s go. Oh my god, look at you! One block down. You’re doing great. Wait...you’re running up hill right now! What would high-school you think? YOU’RE REALLY DOING THIS! Half-way there, you’ve come too far to quit now. You got this. I believe in you. Come on, a little further. You were made to do hard things. You’re getting stronger with every step. That’s it. Left. Right. Left. Right. One foot in front of the other. Couple more. YOU DID IT! OH MY GOD I'M SO PROUD OF YOU! I’m so proud of me.”
I’m not really sure what changed—whether it was the self help books, or if the stars aligned, or maybe I was just tired of feeling weak—but now when I run, I no longer fight with myself the entire way. I speak to myself as if I were a child that I loved dearly: with love, support, encouragement, and immense pride. Yes, pride. I have come to realize that throughout my life I have always worked hard to make someone else proud—my parents, a teacher, etc. But when it comes to running, something that is solely for me, I’ve found making myself proud is so much more fulfilling. With every run I completed I became more and more proud of myself. The speed and the distance were never important to me, only the fact that I was doing something each and every day that I told myself I never could. Oh, how I loved proving myself wrong.
However, I was also terrified. Going on daily runs was starting to work its magic in other areas of my life too. I was gaining self confidence, I felt better physically and mentally, and I was scared. The number of times I have told myself I was going to start working out or eating healthier only to stop and never return after taking a “break” a few weeks into the process is ridiculous. I didn’t want to fall off the horse in fear I’d never get back on. I didn’t want this to just be a hobby that started and ended with quarantine. So I ran every day with no days off. (I even ran in the COLD guys.) Until my knee pain started flaring up, again.
Very long story short, I am a chronic leg-sitter. (If you currently have your legs folded up underneath you while you’re reading this, take it from someone who knows, and uncross.) I’ve had pain in my left knee ever since coming home from Hong Kong on a sixteen hour flight, three years ago. I can only assume it was a combination of too much HK hiking combined with sitting with my knees up for, well, sixteen hours straight, that caused the damage. The doctors aren’t really sure what’s wrong with my knee, to be completely honest, but I’ve been in physical therapy for a little over three months now. During this time I’ve completely ceased all running; until last week, when I was finally cleared to start again.
Of course, this being me, I could not merely just start running again after an injury. No, no, that would be much too easy, too simple (NOT!). I, of course, had to sign up for a Run Club that my favorite local brewery is hosting (honestly, part of me just kinda wanted the free souvenir t-shirt that you get after completing your fourth run). Combining my new social anxiety with my fear of running? What could go wrong?
I had planned on running all week in preparation for the group run. But everyday I found another excuse not to. By the time the day of the Run Club rolled around, I debated not going. I planned on chickening out. But something inside me said, “just do it” (sponsor me Nike). Not to mention, I can’t give myself all the credit. All my friends supportive-yelled at me to, “DO IT!” So I went. I was terrified beforehand that everyone else in the club were going to be “runners.” But when I got there, everyone just looked like they were there to have fun, get some exercise, and maybe even grab a beer after. They looked...like me. Although the whole time before the run I was pretty nervous, and honestly kinda embarrassed to be in the much smaller, one-mile group, once we started, my instincts took over. And so did my new internal monologue.
I kinda get the appeal of running in a group now. You’re too busy thinking, “Where are we going? Just stick with the team and please, don’t get run over by a car,” to worry about the fact that you can’t really breathe. Oh, man was I out of breath and red in the face afterwards. But. I. Did. It.
(Pictured above: a very smiley and sweaty gal after completing her fourth Run Club run and earning that free t-shirt by running her first ever mile in its entirety without slowing down or stopping. Hell yeah.)
Here’s the thing: I still hate running. Every time I go out to run I dread it. I take my sweet time putting on my knee brace and lacing up my sneaks. But the important thing is that I do it anyway. Gandhi said, “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it.” At a point in my life where I felt extremely lost, grasping at straws in the chaotic darkness of uncertainty, I decided to do the only thing I could: put one foot in front of the other. I focused on just that next step. And then the next. And then the next. As someone who’s fear of their own lack of control over the future is the bane of their existence, constantly worrying about some unknown way down the line, this becomes a huge step towards letting go and just keep moving forward.
What I'm Reading:
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig - Wow, wow, wow. Two back-to-back winners from my book club. This time it was my friend’s pick and she did not disappoint. I couldn’t help but fly through this novel. It was such an easy, fun read that I looked forward to at the end of each of my days. It stimulated some long buried imagination and contained such an important message that I really needed to hear this week. Reminders of how lucky and sweet it is to simply be alive are always appreciated. I highly recommend this light read to anyone and everyone.
What I'm Watching:
Euphoria on HBO Max - Honestly, I haven’t watched too much because I’ve been reading obsessively. However, I finally sucked it up and bought a subscription to HBO Max. Best decision ever. I was getting really bored of Netflix's selection and HBO Max feels like an entertainment holy grail. Plus, people have been recommending Euphoria to me for ages. Everyone swears I’ll love it. I guess I will be the judge. I am looking forward to it though—I love me some Zendaya.
What I'm Listening To:
Birds Chirping - ...yes, like literal birds chirping. Get outside people. And unplug. You deserve it.