Boston felt so personal.
There was a time when I loathed running. As a teenager, we were forced to run every day during off-season at school. The athletics girls were turned loose on the green belts behind our school, and I was constantly thankful for the cover of the trees, so that after half-heartedly jogging the short distance of an open field, I could duck onto the trails, pull out the magazine that I always hid down my sweatshirt, and have a nice leisurely walk and read.
Early in college, when friends started hitting the pavement to combat the ‘freshman 15’, I sipped on my full-calorie Coke and laughed that if you ever caught me running, you’d better take off too, because there was probably a bear chasing me. When I thought of running, I thought of futility. I thought of tracks and circles. I wondered: what is the point of putting all that effort into something that just brings you right back to where you started?
Then, in my second year of marriage, the birth of my first daughter coincided with a great tragedy for a dear friend of mine. The loss of her minutes old baby. I was consumed by grief for her loss, confusion at her need to push away from our friendship, and terrified by the tenuousness of life. First came insomnia. It was two weeks after the birth before I finally collapsed from exhaustion and truly slept. Next came the post-partum depression. I felt like the worst person alive for being in such a dark place in the midst of such a joy. On top of everything else, my precious little girl was plagued with stomach issues and only slept for an hour at a time, day or night, for the first six months of her life. I was frightened, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
Perhaps, in the beginning, running was an escape. A good excuse to leave the house by myself and be alone with my thoughts, though I rarely wanted to be alone with them. When I ran, it was to leave everything behind. I would run until my aching legs and burning lungs and pounding heart consumed all of my focus and feelings. Being only a couple of months post-partum, I started small. At first, it was almost entirely walking. Each time I headed out, I added a few more minutes to my running to my sessions. It became a challenge to myself. I started to look forward to beating my old distances or times. The first evening that I ran for thirty minutes straight without walking, I glowed for days. I began feeling better, life began to make sense again, my mind calmed.
I don’t know quite when the transition occurred, but soon I was no longer running from things, but towards them. I was running towards better health, towards a quiet mind, towards a better version of myself as wife and mother, towards farther distance goals, towards my first competitive races. My longest runs (during the weekends) were spent on a quiet wooded trail where I would cover 10-14 miles over several hours. Despite illnesses, injuries, and a handful of major life changes that have required me to give up running for varying amounts of time, I have always found my way back.
I finally came to see the return to the beginning as part of the beauty in running, instead of a senseless exercise. Though you come back to the same physical place, you never return the same exact person. Running brought me back to myself and back to taking joy in my family and life. It challenges me to be stronger when I despair that I have nothing left to give. It reminds me that good days will come after even the worst. As my faith has developed, I have found that the lessons from running and religion overlapped and interweaved in my life. One of my favorite ways to gain clarity on a troubling situation has become to pray while I run. Sometimes I carry a set of worn, wooden beads; sometimes I head out and just pour my thoughts out as I cover ground; and there is rarely a run where I don’t have the opportunity to offer up some physical discomfort. Body and soul are intricately connected and there is great joy in finding a moment to exercise both together
When I read about the tragedy in Boston, my heart went immediately to those runners. I thought of their sacrifice: the time and effort and pain and sweat that they had put into being there. I thought of the spectators who were injured, those family and friends who gave up time with their athletes, who supported and cheered them through their physical and mental endeavors. I hurt for them. I ached, soul-deep. Then I laced up my shoes, headed out into the night, and prayed through my run. I prayed that as they recover, as they heal, they remember the lessons that they have learned from running. I pray they remember their strength. I pray they remember that the struggle is worth the rewards. I pray that they remember the path back to themselves and are able to come full circle healed and whole.
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