I used to run because I didn’t know I could.
This year I ran because I knew – I could.
When I was growing up in North Carolina and East Tennessee humidity, my doctors wrote notes to excuse me from running in PE classes. When I ran for any distance, I’d start to wheeze like I had asthma. I didn’t, but the combination of the exertion and the air I was breathing created an allergic reaction that made me miserable.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to run at all. In the middle of a snowy Chicago winter, my seminary boyfriend (who had run the Chicago Marathon) took me to get fitted with running shoes and coaxed me into trying.
At first, I couldn’t make it more than a few blocks. We’d walk a couple of blocks and then he’d start me running again. In the biting, dry winter air, even when I started breathing hard from the exertion, I could always breathe freely. It wasn’t long before I had worked up to running a whole mile at a time, and then two.
The relationship didn’t last, but the running did (and I’ll always be grateful to him for introducing me to one of the healthiest habits of my life).
It wasn’t until more than five years later that I even thought about running more than the approximately three miles of a 5k.
An enthusiastic new friend talked me into signing up for a half marathon. That’s thirteen miles. The third weekend of July in downtown Chicago. The one time of the year the humidity approaches southern levels.
I knew it was impossible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. The idea was ridiculous. But trying the training at least would be good for me.
So I started in the spring. Every weekday morning I ran three miles, and then one weekend day I did my “long” run. The first week it was three miles, then four, adding one mile each weekend. Five miles, then six – those felt challenging but doable. But once I hit seven, it felt impossible.
And each week, as I finished another impossible distance, I was doing something I couldn’t believe I was doing. I started to wonder, what other impossible things might I be able to do? What inconceivable things could I venture to attempt?
I finished that first half-marathon – ran every bit of it. I’ve run three more since. And as I proved to myself that the first year of training was no fluke, I began to discover depths of determination in myself and a comfort in my own skin I’d never known.
I’m the energizer turtle – I’m slow, but I just keep going.
Every year, as winter ends and I hit the sidewalks each morning to see what the Lake looks like at dawn, I’ve wondered, Can I really do this? I’ve run to prove to myself that yes, I can.
But this year was different. As spring came to the city, and I started to run in March, I knew I could do it. I ran because I could. I could find my feet, my rhythm, my pace. I could stretch myself, and I could go farther.
It’s a difference that’s about more than running. It’s about living, unafraid to fall because I can get back up again and keep going.
As a teenager in the middle of chaotic circumstances, my mother found herself largely on her own. She never wanted me to feel that way, so she made sure I knew that as long as I was single, I had a place at home and I didn’t have to be on my own.
That gift unintentionally left me in a place of never really trusting my ability to take care of myself. It was only after years of paying my own way and taking care of my own bills and car repairs and obligations that it finally sank in that I really could do what I’d been doing all along. Somewhere inside I could finally stop trying to prove that I could take care of myself.
I could just do it and get on with living.
Every morning as I lace up my running shoes and head out to find a path to the Lake, I’m not doing it to prove to myself that I can any more. I’m doing it because I can and I know it.
And it’s time to just get on with the living.