I am a runner. I’m not a marathon runner. I’m not even a 5K runner. I don’t run every day and I may go a month (or more) without heading out for a jog. However, I am a runner.
Four years ago this summer, my third (and last!) baby had just turned one. I was feeling sluggish and out of shape. I did not belong to a gym and was just emerging from the fog that is the first year of a child’s life. I had walked my way through all of my pregnancies and had belonged, on and off, to gyms over the years. I used other cardio equipment, lifted weights, and I spent some time in group exercise classes. I never ran. It looked so boring to me. I would see friends of mine posting about their runs and their best times and I would see pictures of them at finish lines from 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons and think, good for them. It was not for me. That is, until that summer four years ago.
Desperate to get moving again I had dragged a jogging stroller out of my shed one morning while my older kids were at summer camp and strapped my baby in. I downloaded some music to my phone, put on my old sneakers, and off we went. We walked at a brisk pace for about two miles for several days in a row. It felt SO GOOD to be moving again and to be doing something that was actually for me. Nine years of parenting had taken it’s toll on my own self-care and I began to realize how much I needed to stop the neglect. After about two weeks of pushing the heavy stroller (and heavy baby) around the neighborhood I took the bold step of waking up early (before my husband left for work) to get my walk in without the baby. While listening to a particularly energizing song I picked up my pace and I began to run. And I was hooked.
Four years later I now call myself a runner. I have joined a gym so I can run despite the weather. During the spring, summer, and early fall I run outside. The rest of the year I get myself onto the treadmill. As I said, my commitment sometimes wavers. I may go several weeks without a run. I have not increased my distance to more than 3 or 4 miles in a session. My speed is mediocre. I have yet to sign up for any official road races. But I am a runner and here is why.
1. It keeps me physically healthy. As a woman my cardiac health is important to me as well as my general weight. I am not focused on the number on the scale specifically but I understand that my metabolism is slowing down as I age (ugh, 40) and if I want to continue to eat the foods I most love (oh bread…how I adore you), I will need to counter my healthy-ish diet with some exercise to maintain my ideal weight. Running also helps me get through my other daily activities related to work and managing my home and children without running out of breath and energy.
2. It keeps me mentally healthy. Any time I have had a particularly bad day complete with some sort of verbal outburst (or tears) I quickly realize (after all has calmed down) that I am in need of a run. Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins keep our emotions more stable. Running also allows me some “downtime” in my very busy brain. When I run I turn off email and text notifications on my phone and blast (at a healthy decibel level of course) my favorite high-energy feel-good music through my headphones. I get lost in the music. I get distracted by my daydreams. Sometimes I simply stare at myself in the reflection of the TV monitor on the treadmill thinking…nothing. And it is glorious. If I take too long of a break between runs I almost always find myself with a headache, a heartache, and a bad attitude. Running, quite simply, keeps me happy in the face of other stressors.
3. It makes me feel strong. I am a rather small person with a small frame. I’m not particularly strong, physically. When I run, however, I feel invincible. As the time ticks by and the miles tick off I am often amazed at my ability to keep running. While I am sure I could not run more than four or five miles without some serious committed training, I do always hit a point in my run (usually around mile 2) when I feel as if I could run forever. That feeling is empowering and addicting. Any worries about my strength (both physical AND mental) disappear and I am reminded that I am perfectly capable…of anything.
4. It is for me. As I have emerged from the chaos that is parenting small children and entered my forties I have begun to place more importance on the idea of self-care. My children deserve a mother who is happy and healthy. My employer deserve an employee that has the energy and motivation to do her best work at all times. If I do not take care of myself, I cannot give of myself. The thirty minutes I take to run, a few days a week, are for me. It is my way of taking care of me. As a mother I am always taking care of someone else’s needs. As important as that role is, it is as equally important to take care of my needs too.
It’s a New Year and time for New Year’s resolutions. Looking for something to do for you? Interested in finding some additional happiness in a new healthy way? Give running a chance. You may just find that you, too, are a runner.