Let’s start with this:
Picture an outdoor track in the field behind a middle school. It’s less of a track and more of a dusty loop where the dry grass has been worn away by countless Nikes and Asics or, god forbid, off-brand running shoes.
It’s a typical steamy Texas morning, not even noon and the heat is oppressive. And somehow, my brilliant gym teacher decides this is the perfect day to execute the most dreaded of all phys ed requirements: The Timed Mile.
I’ve just turned 13. I’m uncomfortable in my uniform black shorts and grey t-shirt. I write plays and make movies with the family video camera and still play in the woods with my friends although I’m probably too old for it. My childhood is anything but regimented. I do not run.
There may have been a couple of years when I played soccer and my team even made it to the championships. But I was the goalie.
At any rate, you can imagine that running that mile amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in my barely-teenaged head.
I recall walking a good deal of it, sweating profusely and thinking I was hyperventilating. I also recall my gym teacher rolling her eyes at me and telling me to quit being dramatic, take a shower and get my act together. Given my favorite childhood activities, there is every possibility I was, in fact, being dramatic.
The take-away was clear, though: I. Can’t. Run.
Now fast forward a few years. I’ve graduated high school and gone on to college. I’m about as unfit as they come. I’d spent high school on stage in plays and musicals and aside from the occasional walk with my parents (and a dance number here and there), didn’t see the value of formal exercise when you could be acting or singing or dancing or watching the stars with your friends on a Friday night. My whimsical little Type B soul could not see the point of literally pounding the pavement for miles. It also knew it could not run.
But back to college. My freshman year is a massively long story, but suffice it to say it was not what I’d hoped it would be. I lost any hope of ever being in a play there, I lost my friends, I changed dorms, I changed roommates twice, and in the end I felt so far removed from the person I was that I decided it was time to change. I started to run.
Slowly, of course. I couldn’t go far at first. But I started taking step classes at our school gym and my endurance improved. Soon I could pop on a treadmill and make it a mile, maybe even two. My knees ached form time to time, but suddenly I felt powerful, and the more I worked out and every pound that melted away and every bit of muscle definition I gained fed the need to keep going.
I wasn’t a great runner, necessarily. But I could do it. Soon I could even do it better than others. Running brought out my competitive side. Soon I was getting high off passing people on the college track. I ran my first 5K in 24 minutes just by wanting to crush each runner I left in my wake.
As the years went by, my running ebbed and flowed, but always I ran. When I began working for an athletic apparel company, I decided it was time to push my limits again. Soon the aches and pains were undeniable. My arches would burn, my knees would grow stiff after sitting for long periods. But damnit, I could run.
But you might have guessed from the title that this isn’t about running.
This is really about letting yourself let go.
Running had become far more than putting one foot in front of the other. It had become a symbol of everything I deemed I’d overcome. I had triumphed over adversity, damnit, and this was my proof!
That’s exactly what it was. For some reason I thought running gave me power over others, over situations I couldn’t really control, and made me powerful in my own eyes.
The day I decided I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone (including me) was the day I quit running.
And that, my friends, was not an easy thing to do.
Turning to yoga was helpful, certainly. It taught me the difference between power and strength, and I learned I preferred the latter.
But when I initially started heading out for walks rather than runs, the difficulties were apparent. How tempting it was to just leap from your brisk walking pace to a slow jog (what could be the harm?). How lame I felt sometimes, when my ego would rear its ugly head and blast me for being such a wimp, for walking when I. Could. RUN!!
But in moments of complete clarity, when I was being totally honest with myself, I knew that the walking felt amazing. That it was perfect and my body responded to it. When walking, my mind oscillates cleanly from moments of deep thought, to moments of mental silence. My joints feel good, my muscles strong, my breath just heavy enough. I get the feeling I could sustain it infinitely. I become acutely aware of my surroundings, which I’m sure to switch up frequently. Whether it’s the seagulls gliding overhead, a patch of soft, vibrant moss, or a rush of students on the college campus, I’ve slowed down just enough to get in tune with everything around me. It was something I could rarely accomplish while running, whizzing by too fast to catch what flew by on the periphery.
There are still moments when I get the twinge – the urge to give in to surrounding pressures. These can take a number of forms:
THINGS THAT MAKE WANT TO RUN AGAIN:
1) Getting passed by a jogger when I’m out for a walk (One word: Ego).
2) Feeling guilty about the previous night’s drunken milkshake binge (It happens. I’m human.)
3) The fear of not being able to do something. (Holy crap, I can’t do calculus either, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get down about it).
That’s basically it.
Otherwise, I think it just takes practice. The more I walk, the more I love it. It very much comes down to keeping your eyes on your mat (See HERE). Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Concern yourself only with what actually feels right (without, of course, just letting yourself be lazy – remember: we’re being honest here).
And, in hindsight, it turns out I didn’t like my running self very much. She was competitive, occasionally snarky, a bit high and mighty, and she missed a lot. Also, she always felt like she was running for her life.
These days I feel more in touch with that 12-year-old playing in the woods, the one who failed epically at The Timed Mile. She rocks in so many ways.
And she walks.