Five years ago today, I ran my very first race. It was a 5K fundraiser for an animal shelter about 45 minutes from my house. I wanted my first race to be far enough from my home that no one who knew me would be running in it or watching it. I just wanted to try this racing thing and not be completely embarrassed. Like many other slow runners, “just don’t finish last” was my mantra. (Although a few years later, I did finish last in a 5K I ran/walked with my family, and it was freakin’ awesome.) So I ran my race, felt pretty wonderful about it, called my family, texted a friend, then went home. It felt a bit anti-climactic after being so nervous for months, but it was alright.
I’ve run a handful of races since then, but racing makes me feel anxious. There’s the cost of the race, then there’s getting there on time and finding a parking space and where do I go and all that shit that I don’t want or need. After several running injuries, a bad back and now hip pain, the reason I still run after 5 1/2 years is because it makes me feel good.
That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
Not all of my physical ailments are due to running. I’ve always had a bad back and the MRI image of the herniated disc is my proof. All of the other issues (pulled muscles, feet aches, hip pain) may be from running, but most of that has been manageable. It’s the emotional and mental release that running allows me is why I keep tying those laces time after time.
Running helps rid me of anxiety and worry and sometimes sadness or anger. Although I often do math in my head while running or think about sex or sing the lyrics to whatever tune I’m listening to, all of those things just flow through my mind and I don’t really *feel* any emotions. I just work my body until it’s tired and often sore and when I think I might need to walk the next hill, I try to push through until the next song on my playlist and if I can keep on running through the next one and the next one, then I do.
I think running washes the limbic system in my brain. It clears out the gunk built up in there by my emotional reactions to nearly everything in my life. I’m hoping it will help my memory in the future, too, but only time will tell.
When I run, I love that I can leave everything behind, even for just 30 minutes. I don’t think about mom’s dementia or if I’m scarring my child for life with my parenting skills or what debt needs to be paid. I don’t worry about what I look like. Since I live in a rural area, typically I don’t even have to worry about saying “hello” to other people on the road. I don’t have to be nice to anyone or smile or watch my words. I get to just move my body to the best of my ability, while music I have chosen blasts through my ears and into my limbs and brain and I only think of putting one foot in front of the other. I feel nothing. I’m not angry or sad or happy even. I am just my body and the music. Nothing else.
Not every run is like this, unfortunately. Some runs hurt too much to not feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes my brain is just too filled with emotional baggage to shut down. But most of the time, even for just part of a run, my brain goes on vacation while my body does the work. It’s glorious. It really is. Maybe if someone had told me this before, I would have tried to shed those 85 pounds earlier and got my ass out on the road 20 years ago.
If you’re not a runner and you’re still reading this, I’m not telling you to get out there and run a 5K. I don’t believe running is for everyone. But I think there’s something out there for you that can help you “escape reality” for just a bit, something that can allow you to let off some steam and release whatever pressures you’re feeling. Maybe it’s creating art of some kind, writing, playing tennis, or baking bread. Whatever brings you joy of some sort and makes you breathe easier once you’ve done it. Whatever that thing is, go do it.
I know you’re busy. We all are. But if we don’t find something to release stress and anger and sadness and frustration, then you may find yourself eating that stress away, or drinking it away, or yelling at your loved ones over nothing. You’ll find yourself with high blood pressure or diabetes or some other physical ailment that you might have been able to prevent.
Find that thing you do.
Climb a mountain. Paint a picture. Make a tasty tomato sauce. Or just go for a run.
You’ll feel better afterwards. I promise.