I’m running on the beach. It’s raining. The wind, which was gentle at mile one, is abrasive now at mile five. The waves are pounding, drowning out all the other noises in my head. I’m dragging through the sand a bit, weighted down by my soggy shoes, but I push on. I inhale the salty air like its some kind of drug and I go, running alongside the ocean and the dizzying expanse of the horizon. There’s nowhere I’d rather be. I am in this moment.
And I’m so grateful because it finally happened. In this moment, I became a runner.
I was never an athletic kid. I was awkward and apprehensive. I would never have elbowed my way across a soccer field or bolted from first base to steal second. I wasn’t inactive – I swam and biked and played tag – but I had no interest in competition.
I also fatigued easily. I used to have this recurring dream about trying to run but my legs were weighted down and I had to drag them with all my might just to move a few feet.
So I stuck with art and books and casual sports until I hit high school. It seemed like everyone was doing a sport, so I decided to join the track team. How hard could it be, right?
At the first practice, we had to run a one-mile warm up. I had never run more than 100 yards. I plodded along and quickly fell to the back of the pack. The star athletes lapped me with ease. But I kept my head down and huffed my way around that track four long times. As I rounded the last corner, I noticed that I was the only runner left. I decided this was going to be my last practice. Then I heard my name, and clapping. I picked up my lead legs and completed the mile. The team cheered as if I had done something great. And while I didn’t break any records, except maybe world’s slowest mile, I had done something. I finished when I didn’t think I could.
It was a miserable run, but it was my first taste of the joy that comes with running. I’m sure winning feels nice too, but that’s not why I run.
After high school, I put running on a shelf. Every now and then I would pick it up and dust it off. I’d manage to run two miles, sometimes three. I even worked up to a 10K at one point. But I always put running back on the shelf. I ran because I wanted to lose weight or get in shape. It wasn’t something that I did out of love. In fact, I kind of hated it.
Then I had a baby and another baby and lots of things got put on that shelf. Running got pushed to the way back. Until one day, a friend recruited me to run a 5K with her. What the hell? I thought. I’ll do it. And so I became that pokey runner on the track again. Only this time, I liked it.
I trained for a few months and on race day, I felt really good. I didn’t just enjoy the finish. I enjoyed the scenery, the quiet, the feel of my shoe hitting the pavement, the room in my head for actual thoughts. I relished the whole run.
So I started running more. I got new shoes, clothes, made a running mix. I ran a 10K and a few more fives. I got faster, stronger, hungrier. I started to love running.
About four months ago, I signed up for a half marathon. The race is Sunday, the day after my 40th birthday. I’m still not sure what I’ve gotten myself into. 13.1 miles is far. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, and I’m terrified. But I’m also exhilarated.
Running is no longer something I can put on a shelf.
When I run I am nobody and somebody at the same time. I am uninhibited, primal. I grunt, sweat, pant, spit, curse, and listen to gangsta rap. And unlike that first run in high school, I do it with my head held high.
When I run I am in my own world, but out of necessity, I am fully engaged with the world around me. I know every crack, curb, leaf, and blade of grass in my path. I know when it’s trash day. I know where all the good roadkill is. I know where the sidewalks end.
When I run I am ageless. I could be a kid or an old lady or almost 40-year-old me. I’m just movement and sweat and breath. And I’m so happy.
I run because it makes me feel alive. And it feels damn good to be alive.