Because I Can

I still remember my first cross country practice in high school. It was the summer before freshman year, and I’d never really done much running before. At first, I was more concerned with the cute guys on the team than the actual running. The first practice was held at a local park that had a very flat, simple trail. Run a mile down, run a mile back. Easy peasy, right? My screaming lungs and legs begged to differ.

I struggled my way through my first few races, and then at some point, something clicked in my mind. I began to like running, and it became much easier.

It became–dare I even say it–enjoyable.

I even became somewhat competitive, though I was never going to be a star athlete. By the time I entered senior year, I was in the best shape of my life (well, who isn’t at 17?).

When I got to college, I tried to maintain my relationship with running. But then I found riding, which quickly became an all consuming passion. Running slowly faded to the wayside, an old habit I tried to pick back up every now and then but that otherwise sat around, dusty and neglected.

Years later, I often thought about trying to reignite my relationship with running. But as is often the case, I let excuses get in the way. I knew that I should be more active, but it was easy to convince myself that my riding alone was doing it. But let’s be honest, I’m no trainer. I’m not riding five horses a day, six days a week. I needed something more.

Even after my dad’s death and my  own accident, I had a difficult time re-asserting my desire to change. Here I had two very big life changing events occur:

  1. My dad’s death from a catastrophic stroke despite losing a significant amount of weight and leading a pretty healthy lifestyle. Not helped in any way by his diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes a few years earlier.
  2. My accident – a very real reminder that I only have one brain, one body, and one life.

The day I started running again, nothing significant happened. Similar to any other major life change, you can’t force it. Trying to force change into some pre-molded idea or timeframe is a recipe for failure. First, you must actually want to change. And then you have to be willing to do it.

One day a few weeks ago, I just decided I was ready. So I started running again. Cue the Forrest Gump quotes, because I just felt like running.

This time, I set myself up for success. Similar to my rehab over the last year, or even the grief process of losing my dad, I knew it might be slow going. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and I just went out and started.

This time, running came back to me like an old buddy. Maybe it was all the riding I’ve been doing or the biking Paul and I have been enjoying around Durham, but I came away from each workout feeling refreshed.

Hold on, what? Did I just say I ran and felt refreshed? Who am I?!

Over the next few weeks, I felt more energetic and actually began to see my productivity in other areas improve, as well. I felt a little more positive. I did a little more each day. Hell, just Monday I worked, rode two horses, and mowed the yard just because I felt like it.

I took the past week off due to some unfortunate knee issues but was back at it today. Something about having come through the past two years alive – just out there on the street, sweating and pounding the pavement…well, it just feels good. Just me and my headphones and the city. Knowing that despite all it’s been though, my body can still rally and carry me around – it’s an oddly exhilarating feeling.

A couple of weeks ago, we were at the beach (for enjoyment, for once) and I took a run out on the beach. It took me back to my training in high school. We spent all summer at the beach, so pretty much each day, I headed out for a run on the beach or around the neighborhood. Often, I would see my dad out riding his bike.

On this particular day as I was returning from my run, I saw a young girl out for a run, accompanied by her dad on his bike. A very tangible sense of nostalgia came over me. To think about the things that were – and the things that are now.

At any rate, it really doesn’t matter if you run or choose to enjoy a different activity. The thing is – we seem to be so focused on loss as a society. We talk so much about eating less, losing weight, etc.

Instead, can we focus on what we gain when we choose to be more active because we can? Because we appreciate the way our body works and we want to feel better and enjoy it more?

There is a very simple kind of joy that can be found in your own strength, and you don’t need to run a marathon to find it.

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