Steady as She Goes

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To run: “to go without restraint move freely about at will.” —Merriam-Webster

Let me preface this by saying: I am by no means a runner. In my mind, runners are people who are clocking in hours, miles, perhaps training for marathons, people who get up early to run or traverse miles because it clears their heads. This is not me. Though the idea appeals to me, I am not a runner by these standards. Not by any standards, really. But that’s not going to keep me from running. Not anymore.

In elementary and middle school I was considered, however briefly, a runner. I was one of the fastest girls in my class and I felt sheer joy when I ran barefoot through the apple orchards next to my house. I loved to run, not for organized sports, but just because. And if someone wanted to race, I was game. Especially if it was one of the boys; victory seemed even sweeter when I bested a boy at a race. Nevertheless, I wasn’t on the track team. I played a year or two of basketball—I was not good—and went to the track tryouts my freshman year, but after the first day I didn’t go back. Why?

I think it’s because I connected running with sports. And as you go further in school, the more pressure is placed on sports. I thought that if someone was to run, it had to be for a purpose, to get from point A to point B, to beat your current time, to beat an opponent. And in my house growing up, competition and sports weren’t important. Going to the library and reading were important, watching classic black-and-white films was important, as was listening to music or going to a museum. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for this upbringing, for the love of art and culture that my mother instilled in my sister and I, but I felt like I missed a part of being young: being a part of a team, developing a love for healthy active hobbies, spending more time outdoors.

But being raised to appreciate books doesn’t mean that you can’t play sports, and my mom never said that. In fact, my sister joined the swim team in high school and was one of the best swimmers on the team, placing second in a big race. But for me, sports weren’t appealing. I didn’t want to compete, didn’t want to play by rules, have a set schedule with meets and games. I could’ve kept running on my own, without these tethers, but in my mind, there was no point in running unless it was in the effort to win a medal.

Winning a medal was appealing though, and had been appealing since I was in first grade and won my first medal for a short story I had written. It was appealing when I placed third in our middle school’s “Cave Day” race, where we all dressed up like cave(wo)men and did relay races (I know, seems odd). But the appeal of competing to win was tainted when I played basketball and found that I wasn’t very good at it. In hindsight, who cares? But in my young, perfectionistic mind, there was no point in playing after this realization. If you weren’t going to be good, why bother? Obviously now I know that trying and practicing, devoting oneself to practice, makes one better, good even. That’s how athletes and artists are made.

But once I was in high school, practicing wasn’t of concern to me. Even my practice of writing creatively, an activity that I had been doing since I was small just because I loved it, became less of a concern. Actually, it was a big concern, but because I felt I couldn’t do it well, because I put such immense pressure on myself, I gave it up. And sadly, for a long time. I played it off with the mentality that practicing, putting in effort, and trying (and perhaps failing) wasn’t very cool. Better to sit by the sidelines and critique than to get out on the field and perhaps fail.

Failure, or the fear of failure, kept me from doing many things that I wanted to do. The idea of making a fool of myself was too much to bear. So I sat things out. I didn’t practice. And I definitely didn’t run. Up until now.

My fear of failure dissipated immensely when I gave up drinking alcohol 2+ years ago, but change doesn’t happen overnight. At least, not with me. I’m more of a slow-and-steady kinda gal, though I wish I was more spontaneous, adventurous, quick to try anything; I’m getting there. For as soon as I gave up booze, I found that life opened up in a lot of ways. Failure didn’t seem so scary anymore. Trying seemed a lot more fun. And I found that I would rather try something and fail or hate it or be embarrassed or whatever than the alternative. I was done being a passenger in my own life.

Many things ensued after my decision; I tried surfing for the first time while I was in Costa Rica, I devoted myself to a deep and powerful love affair with yoga that is still a part of my daily life, I started cooking for myself more (seems small but, for me, that’s a biggie). Even with all of this steady change, I didn’t pick up running again. Why? I had all kinds of excuses. I told myself it was because I didn’t have the right kind of shoes. Yet when I bought a pair of supremely comfy running shoes, I still didn’t do it. I was still, though unconsciously, existing in my old mindset: if I wasn’t good at something or wasn’t clocking a 7-minute mile or running 5 miles a pop, there was no point in beginning. But we all have to begin somewhere. And beginning my new life without booze should have been proof enough that this is true.

It wasn’t until recently, when my health issues (which you can read more about here, if you’re so inclined) were flaring up, that I thought perhaps doing something active other than yoga would be beneficial. I felt like getting my heart beating faster and breaking a sweat could probably help my body flush the toxins it seems to be holding onto. So as soon as I got home from work one day, moving quickly before I could change my mind, I laced up my comfy running shoes, popped in my earphones, did a couple of stretches, and hit the road near my house.

I feel lucky every day that where I live is so beautiful. My new house is out on a country road with rolling hills in view and neighbors’ llamas, horses, mules, and goats crunching away on grass in the pastures nearby. Birds are everywhere, swooping overhead or hopping across the road, and there are blackberry bushes buzzing with bees as far as the eye can see. Running on this stretch of pavement is dreamy, with a breeze usually fluttering through low-hanging eucalyptus that is a cool balm on hot days. Dreamy enough that my fear over not being a “true runner” decided to run off on its own.

Let me be clear: I probably ran for a few minutes before I had to stop, before I had to walk and catch my breath. But that’s okay. I was rusty, and moving at all was better than nothing. So I walked until I caught my breath, listening to my music and reminding myself to let my eyes wander over the beautiful scenery. And once I had my breath, I started running again. I continued this way, running and slowing, all the way down to the stop sign where the country lane I live on connects to a busier road. I turned around and kept the same pace back home. I was probably gone for a half hour. I’m sure it’s less than a mile. And I don’t run everyday, not even every week (not yet). But who cares? I’m running again.

I wish you a wild, free life.

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