Monday, October 7, 2013

Running as sanctuary (#31 days to Sanctuary day 7)

In sixth grade, I was the very last person in my class to finish the mile, a dreaded source of torture each year.  That year, I think I clocked in at around 25 minutes when my teacher gave up on me.  I was even passed by my friend with asthma who ended up having an asthma attack (all the more reason to move slowly, I figured, after making sure she would be okay).  I have never seen the purpose in running.  Why would I choose to do something that involves sweating, heavy breathing, and pain?  Something has switched in me, though, over the past few years.  Aging has been an interesting process.  You spend much of your early life just waiting to get older, and then one day you wake up and don't really recognize yourself and can't get a handle on how quickly time is passing.  Your body doesn't move as easily as it once did, and there are now random pains from mysterious sources.  Habits must change as it's not as easy to bounce back from bad behavior (late night cheese fries, years of skipping out on exercise and the dentist) as it once was.

Two years ago, my workplace hosted a couch to 5k program.  I'm not sure what prompted me to enter, but I think it might have been my desire to challenge myself and rediscover a new identity after finding myself in a new job.  It was not easy or pretty, but I was proud of my ability to stick with it and to see incremental progress over the weeks.  I found that I liked pushing myself and gained confidence in what my body could do physically for the first time.  I appreciated that I could spend a little over half an hour pushing myself and accomplish a task that would give me energy and strength for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, good habits are easy to break.  Over the past year, I've spent more time on the couch than in the gym, and have used the "too busy" excuse too often to avoid exercise.  Although I still enjoyed walking as a spiritual and stress-relieving practice, running once again began to intimidate me as I attempted to jump back in too fast, overdid it, and had to recover from pain.  Then I was a little afraid to get back in the game, and it was all too easy just to become a slacker once again.

On the invitation of a friend, I joined a group of women from my church in signing up for a local 5k.  I had planned on training for the month leading up to it, but time snuck up on me, and other than walking a mile or two each day, I wasn't prepared.  As we gathered at the starting line, I was pretty nervous, but when the gun sounded I was caught up in the energy of the crowd and my own adrenaline kicked in.  I told myself that I could at least run the first mile and it would take that long to warm up.  With my 80s music in my ears, I was able to keep pace and wondered if I might be able to run the entire thing.  I started to remember the part I find helpful about running--I have to concentrate so hard to just survive that I can't think of much else!  The music gave me a rhythm for my feet, and my head just reminded me over and over to keep breathing.  I tried not to look ahead, and in looking down I saw by my shadow that I was alone.  I had pulled ahead of my group but had been left behind by the true runners.  It was a comfortable place to be for this introvert with little time to myself in recent days.

As I faced hills, I had to gather all my resolve and strength not to give up, but keep plodding along, step by slow step.  There's something inspiring about race culture, the way random strangers lined up along the route to cheer us on.  The volunteers who marked our turns would give encouraging words, "You're almost there!" Runners cheered each other on as we passed one another on the path and set the pace for those behind us.  I could hardly believe it when I saw the finish line, and it was a source of pride that I had run the entire way.  It's not something I would do every day, but it's good to know that I could do it...with the support of several hundred friends and strangers.

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