Health and Wellness, single-parenting

Diary of a Reluctant Runner: Why I Train

I am in a season of change. My job has changed and changed again, causing my income to flux in response. My schedule has changed and will change again in 2 days when my daughter’s school releases for the summer break. Being rather dependent upon external structure to provide my internal structure, a significant amount of change will produce some equally significant anxiety in me. I’ve known this about myself since the 6th grade when I requested that my mother buy me a Day-Timer, because on some level I’ve also known that life isn’t always that great about providing consistent external structure. Sometimes you have to make it up on your own, and that has been an ongoing process of maturity for me. 

In my 38 years, I have picked up some great ways to cope with change, and I’ve picked up a few bad habits. If Netflix, Candy Crush, and trips to the fridge or the neighborhood frozen yogurt shop have become the things I’ve organized my life around, I’m trouble. I’ve descended into the hell that is anxiety-riddled boredom and general malaise. As you can imagine, I’m not an enjoyable or productive human being when I’m in this place. It is, however, often my go-to when I hit a level of anxiety that feels paralyzing and I want to avoid the reality of my situation, even if the reality of my situation is actually closer to an exciting, new adventure rather than a rough season or tragic life event. 

Recently, I finished watching all 4 seasons of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix and conquered level 443 of Candy Crush Soda Saga, if that tells you anything about the current state of my affairs. If I weren’t so broke right now, I’m sure that my frozen yogurt card would also be fully punched, and I would be relishing in my free bowl of triple chocolate mixed with strawberry cheesecake topped with crushed Oreos. Since I’m currently eating cauliflower and grape tomatoes, I feel like I can say that I’m still hanging on, but not by much. 

My solution for this lack of external structure and need for healthy ways to cope with the resulting anxiety was to sign up to run a full marathon. “That’s insane!” you say? I couldn’t agree more. It feels completely bonkers, especially since I spent the winter in hibernation mode, recuperating from some pretty significant health challenges and gaining a pound for each week that I spent inside recovering. And yet, this is the only decision in my life that I feel truly at peace about. Why? Because it has worked for me before. 

Throughout my school years, my grades would be highest during volleyball and track season and routinely take a dip during the off seasons. As an adult, when I have needed to grow in my ability to focus, prioritize, creatively problem-solve, and be more self-disciplined in executing the steps necessary to achieve a goal, it has been running that provided the training ground to develop and refine those skills. Training for 5K and 10K races helped me take those first steps towards learning to set realistic expectations for myself, as well as the highly important lesson of patiently completing all of the smaller steps required to meet the bigger goal rather than simply making a mad dash for the finish line. It reinforced the lesson that thoughtful and patient preparation is just as important in life as it is for running. 

Training for a half-marathon helped me take steps towards learning how to properly nourish my body. It also taught me that I can do things that I never in a million years would have dreamed I could do. Surprisingly, I also learned that all of my best ideas come to me when I am out on a long run. Something magical happens when you are out on a trail and several miles into a run, and you realize that you have all the time and space in the world to put some big questions out into the universe and the silence and solitude to hear God whisper the answers back. Given all that I have going on in life right now, some serious Q&A time with the Divine seems warranted. Thus, training for a marathon seems to actually make some sense. 

Having such great experiences with the St. Jude Memphis Marathon weekend at the 10k and half-marathon levels, I knew that I wanted my first marathon to be St. Jude. Attempting to wrap my mind around the idea of actually running a marathon, I have researched training plans, nutrition advice, and even bullet journals to track progress and maintain motivation through the training process. I ended up selecting this optimistic llama as the keeper of all my training hopes, dreams, goals, and stats, along with all of the angst that comes with the mental, emotional, and physical challenges of training. He says it’s no problem, and I guess I’ll have to take him at his word, but I hope he knows that I can get pretty angsty in July and August when the heat index is 125. 

In addition to committing to run the St. Jude marathon, I also committed to the St. Jude Hero program, which means I’ll be fund-raising as I train. As a parent, it feels so important to me that the St. Jude families get to focus on getting the best treatment for their child without having to worry about bills piling up, and I am happy to support that in any way that I can. It is also a powerful reminder of how grateful I am for my own newly minted clean bill of health. Perhaps my wise llama guide can help me generate a gratitude mantra about this, and I can chant it to combat the heat-induced angst. (Summer is here. I’m dreading it. Can you tell?!)

Llama jokes aside, training for a race and racing for St. Jude has always been a powerful experience for me. When life got hard and I was feeling squeezed by all of the pressure coming at me from every direction, my first thought was “I need a big race to train for. I always do better when I have a race to train for”. I tried to wait it out and let a return to sanity dismantle that idea, but weeks and months came and went, the squeeze continued, and the idea of training for a big race continued to beckon with it’s promises of growth and peace. Answering the call by signing up has already settled some of my nerves and increased my focus. 

I suspect that, like before, if I keep showing up and putting in the work (even when it’s ugly), training will faithfully deliver all the growth I need and more. The beauty of it is I get to take all of those blessings from running and use it to fuel the professional and creative goals that have been stalling out and causing me stress. That is what I’m most excited about. Who knows what answer or stroke of creative brilliance is waiting for me around mile 9?! I can’t wait to find out.