I am the queen of exercise dry spells. I go all in, and then excuses like “I’m too tired” and “Screw it, let’s go out for pizza” set in instead. I’m human, what can I say? But I’ve been a runner since my teens. I’m not fast. I just do it. When I’m on a really hard run, I wonder why I’m putting myself through it, constantly battling the little voice saying, “Just stop.” But then it’s over, and I can’t imagine life without it (hello, runner’s high). When it’s been weeks or months since I’ve even looked at my running shoes, I miss it. I find my way back. Running has always found a way to wedge itself back into my life, and I never fully understood why. Then I had an epiphany.
I’m an overly rational person who works pretty hard to tell myself things are going to be OK. Call me the queen of looking on the bright side (and yes, I’m well aware of how annoying that is when you’re not actually feeling so bright). I’m more likely to tell you what’s going right instead of what’s in shambles. “I’ll figure it out” and “This too shall pass” are my mantras.
But running is hard. It hurts. It breaks you down. Running makes me let go of composure, something I’ve learned I have way too much of. Running makes me confront my immediate thoughts and everything that’s really bothering me, everything I want to change and stop sweeping under the rug. I’m too busy working hard at making it from point A to point B to analyze a situation or feeling to death. There’s no time or energy to do anything but think, feel, react and move. And it’s amazing what a relief it is to not have to make sense of everything, to just feel something with total abandon. It’s emotional detox at its finest.
In her book Big Girl, Kelsey Miller writes about her complicated relationship with food and dieting, but at some point, she has a revelation that she doesn’t have a diet problem per se. She has a distraction problem. She is constantly seeking a distraction from the hard thoughts — those conversations you have with yourself when you realize things have really gone to hell and you have to do something about it. But what’s easier than doing something about it? Watching a movie, blasting some music, eating or getting lost in Gilmore Girls. It’s much easier than facing all of your emotions straight on, whether you do it while running or while staring at the ceiling in total silence. Whether we like it or not, we have to push through this internal dialogue for better or worse. Miller realized it, and now I do, too.
Running finally made sense in a way that it never had before. On some subconscious level, running was my shot to stop distracting myself and finally hear what was going on in my head without analyzing it to pieces. I could be imperfect without the guilt. I could be angry without trying to solve it. It’s easy to say that the imperfect things in life are what make it perfect (one of my famously annoying phrases), but it’s an entirely different thing to actually accept your own imperfections.
Some might argue that distraction is what it takes to get through a long run — anything to forget about how much you want to stop. But on a deeper level, running isn’t the distraction. It’s the confrontation of all your biggest fears, ambitions, thoughts and worries. Your most honest thoughts come at your weakest moments when you say to heck with faking it or putting on a smile to save face. We all need these moments because let’s face it: Total happiness all the time is an illusion. Running reminds me I’m pissed off. It reminds me that I’m angry and that it’s OK to be angry.
If a few miles is what it takes for me remember that it’s OK to feel good things and garbage things, I’ll always come back to it — no matter how much it hurts.