Heart in the Clouds

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I can't believe it.

There are days when I'm a couple of miles into a run and I think to myself, "I cannot believe I'm running." Because I can't. I can't believe it. I can't believe that I can get past my block without getting winded, and it completely blows my mind that I can run miles at a time without stopping.

If you would have told me two years ago that I'd be out running in races with thousands of people, wearing fluorescent short shorts and multi-colored shoes, I'd have told you you were nuts. If you'd have told me I'd actually enjoy running in a rain storm or a snow squall or planning my schedule around running, I would have laughed it off. But here I am, doing web searches for the closest 10Ks and half marathons and trying to fill my calendar for the next year.

Running was something I HATED. Just the thought of it used to make me tired, and, even though I had played sports in high school and college, I figured people who ran all the time were suffering from some form of insanity. It was understood that running was something I would just never be interested in.

But one day I was out for one of my long walks and I decided to try jogging for a bit. So I ran a short distance at a fairly slow speed. Then, I looked back (between my heaving breaths) at all the ground I had covered in that short period and thought, "Wow. I could do this." So I gradually built more and more jogging into my long walks, and then I slowly began to extend the jogging time and cut back on the walking. Eventually, I was running more than I was walking, until I was running all the time. It took a while, but I did it gradually.

I liked the feeling of the wind in my face. I liked covering more ground faster and burning more calories. I liked lacing up my bright yellow shoes and heading out into the fresh air. After a run, I felt like I had accomplished something. I gained some lean muscle. I lost some fat. And I had the sense that I was breaking a cycle in my life.

Until the point where I started running, I never really thought about the idea of food as fuel--what you put in your body determines your energy level. Yeah, it's all common sense, I know, but I just never applied it to myself. I never equated my afternoon blood sugar drops (shaking, sweating, couldn't think straight, etc.) and sleepiness with the fact that I was only eating sugar or carbs for breakfast. I never took into account that I actually needed to burn what I was taking in, and that I needed protein AND good carbs at every meal to be able to burn efficiently. (An aside: I still like some sugar and carbs and I eat them on an almost daily basis, but I eat them more moderately than I used to because I have to think about what it takes to burn them.)

When you grow up with an amazing metabolism, you take it for granted that it'll always be that way. But somewhere around 25-30, your metabolism decides it's not going to do all the work for you. I was in denial, I guess, so I ended up at 36, about 25 lbs overweight and feeling exhausted all day long, but not knowing why.

My decision to start running really had nothing to do with my weight. I just decided one day that I'd try it and see what my body could do. From there, it just became a daily decision to try again because I realized it was fun and it gave me time to think. But over time, I truly saw the many benefits of vigorous exercise and the flood of endorphins and dopamine that comes with pushing yourself.

I've seen myself grow in so many other ways because of running. I have become a little more organized--maybe because I have the energy to do it. I've become more conscious of how I spend (and to whom I devote) my time. I've grown in my faith. I've become more able to fight for myself--maybe that's because, in a small way, I realize what I'm capable of and what I'm worth. I've experienced object lessons out the wazoo...so many running metaphors, so little time. I've met some amazing, inspiring people. I've stepped out of my comfort zone. I've become less moody and more even. I've seen hundreds of beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I never would have seen sitting at home on my couch.

Even injury has taught me a lot. I was sidelined for a few months because I injured my knee. Coming back from that has reminded me of the simple joy of running and that competition isn't important. Personal bests aren't important. PRs don't matter. If you're not an Olympian, who cares?

What's important to me now is creating a legacy of health (mind, body and spirit) for myself and my children and living by example. I want to keep my body healthy for my whole life because heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases run in my family. I feel the desire to take care of the body God has given me because it's the only body I have. I have a long-term goal in mind. If I decide down the road that running isn't for me anymore, I'll just do something else.

So I want to encourage you. You don't necessarily need to start running, but start making daily choices that will build you up and benefit you in the long run (mind, body and spirit). Keep your eyes on your future. Don't go for quick-fix diets. It's not something I used to think about, but I've decided I want to be a spry, healthy, happy 90 year old. There are things in the future I won't be able to control, but I can do my part.

Running has changed my life.