I started my relationship with running in 2012, when I decided I wanted to run a 5k. Previous to this, the longest I had ever run was to the bus or subway when I was late. I had lost just under one hundred pounds, and I needed something new to work towards.
Unfortunately, I had come into running with the idea that since I had been fat and mostly lazy my whole life, now it was time to pay for it. I treated running the way I treated food: as a punishment. I trained really hard. As a result, I did two things. First, I ran my first 5k. Second, I ended up with two fractured metatarsals.
The following months were spent healing, moving apartments, and secretly wishing I could run. It was a secret because I felt foolish wanting to run, almost the same way I felt foolish openly wishing for love. I wasn’t good at either one, and wanting to do it anyway was surely a sign of denial. Running and love were not made for fat people.
And then it all changed.
I was preparing to go running in a nearby park when another runner asked me how much I was running. I laughed, like we were sharing a joke, and said, “I have to run five miles today.”
He didn’t react with a chuckle like I thought he would. He shook his head and replied, “You don’t have to do anything. You GET to run five miles today.”
Whoa. What. Get to run? What do you mean “get” to run? As in, a gift?
From that point on, everything changed. If moving my legs for a long time (even though I was tired), was a gift—what else was a gift? I stopped planning “smaller” goals like what I would do when I lost enough weight, or how small I could get my rear through running. I started planning bigger goals, like when I could realistically run a marathon.
Shortly after the New York Marathon, I read an article written by one of the finishers as she explained that slow runners made her medal mean less. She claimed the point of the marathon wasn’t to just finish the race, but to run it well. She said that any time over five hours was a completely unacceptable finish. I calculated my finished marathon time based on my 5k times. Six hours and three minutes. I was crushed.
I spent the next three races extremely self-conscious of my racing speed. Forget about the fact that I had managed to increase my pace from over 15 minutes per mile down to 12 minutes a mile—I was still too slow. I even started to apologize for my lack of speed.
Another runner set me straight. As we waited for a race to begin, she nudged me and wished me good luck in the race. I laughed, and rolled my eyes. Yeah, luck would be not finishing last. Luck would be people not seeing me huffing and puffing my way to the finish line. Luck would be the photographer catching a shot of me that didn’t make me look like a running Bassett hound.
She slapped my arm and corrected me. “Hey, there’s no shame in being a heavy breather—back of the pack is where it’s at! Someone’s got to finish last!” I later found out she won a gift card once for finishing a race last.
Since then, I’ve surpassed every goal I’ve set myself. I’ve run farther than ever before, faster than I’ve ever run, and even managed to grab some pretty sweet awards—who cares if there were only two people, I still got second place in my age category!
Running has taught me six very important things about life, running, and racing:
- Listen to your body – Something hurts? Stop running. Have more energy? Push forward. Take rest days when you need them and when you don’t. Always honor what your body is telling you, even when you are forced to take off during a vital running time. Injury is a runner’s worst nightmare—it’s always better to be slow, well-rested, annoyed, or last.
- Enjoy every step – Take a moment during your next run to really be mindful and enjoy it. Let your mind feel your legs moving, your muscles working, and maybe even burning. Feel your lungs pulling in air, and feel your heart beating. I remember the first time I felt my heart when I was running. I have never been so rudely reminded that I am alive and I needed to practice gratitude.
- You’re braver than you feel – I’m serious. Size two and the fastest runner in the group? You make me want to be the best I can be. You have no idea how cool I think you are. Super-sized and trailing the back of the race? You amaze me with your courage to keep running. You may think we’re all laughing while we pass you, but I really just want to give you a high-five and tell you to never stop being awesome. Every runner I see inspires me to be better.
- Forgive often – Forgive yourself, forgive other runners, forgive those who don’t quite understand what it is you’re doing, forgive the couple taking up the entire running lane with their stroller, and forgive that guy with the perfect He-Man abs that made you run right into the back of the runner in front of you. More important than anything else, forgive your body for not being the best all the time. Starting a run as light as possible is important for success. This includes the weight you’re carrying in your heart. Leave it all behind.
- Understand that you GET to run – Running is a gift. It’s a gift when it feels horrible. It’s a gift when it’s raining. And snowing. And doing that weird snow/ice thing everyone hates. It’s a gift when you’re winning awards, and when you’re at the back of the bunch, staring at everyone’s chiseled bum while you move on. Talk to a runner who’s injured and you’ll realize that even at its worst possible moment—it’s a gift.
- Pay it forward – Share knowledge, acceptance, and love with other runners, especially the new ones. I’m always amazed at the kindness and care that comes out during races. Runners, spectators, and volunteers will cheer for you, even though they don’t know you. It’s a force powerful enough to fill every crack in your soul with light and warmth.