Years ago, on a foggy, crisp summer morning, a teenage girl sat in a circle of runners holding a complicated leg stretch and counting aloud, not feeling any sort of tension in the muscle she was supposed to be stretching and hoping no one would notice her feigned attempt at loosening her calves. Plain and insecure, she found herself in this particular circle because a friend had asked her to come. Why else would anyone willingly wake up at 7am to run? In the circle of too-thin girls who wore makeup to exercise and overconfident boys in too-short shorts, a single thought plagued her mind. I don’t belong here.
That girl, who that day learned the doomed mistake of eating two bowls of cereal before a workout, is both the very same and totally different from the person I am today. Between those early days of cross country and today, I’ve put in hundreds of miles (although I still haven’t learned to stretch properly). Most of my runs have been torturous. Some of them were fun. Many of them were filled with tears and fueled by resentment.
All of them have contributed to the person I am today.
I never have considered myself a “runner”, or someone who is “in shape.” This is mostly because I don’t fit the body image standards, but also because “runners” just seem so dedicated to their trade. Anything I read about a “runner” tells me that their life revolves around staying in shape and running their best time. I’m not competitive enough for this lifestyle, as I consider myself a victor just for leaving my house some days. Still, when I mention to someone that I run, I feel uncomfortable. As the words come out of my mouth, my thoughts go to my too-thick thighs and scatter towards whatever else it’s trendy to be self-conscious about. Almost immediately I regret even pretending to be an athlete.
Which, in itself, is why I run.
I want to be a toned, trimmed athlete. But I don’t run to be that person. I run to fight against the darker side of myself, to prove to me that I can conquer what I want to conquer. I can overcome my own self-doubt. With every gasp of breath on a run, I am winning a battle. I am facing my fears, my insecurities, my hatred for the things about myself I can’t control. When I run my mind and body are bursting through what is improbable and tearing apart what I used to consider the impossible. Even when I am facing utter physical exhaustion, I make it home because I make the tired mental decision to Just. Keep. Running.
There are so many forces in life that make me want to give up. Small wars, like getting my son to eat vegetables. Big wars, like the crushing, smothering loneliness I feel when I think of the person I was before I became a mom. Wars that don’t really matter, like debating on whether I should just delete my blog because I’m not a writer and no one cares to read posts about my life. I struggle with these things. But I know that if I choose to go on, I can. I can’t win every battle but I can go on. That’s the kind of self assurance running brings me; I know God has given me everything I need to continue through life.
Somehow, that high school cross country runner who never placed in a race managed to run a full marathon last year. She wasn’t especially fast or slim (or fully stretched, it turns out)- she just chose to keep going. That was her turning point.