Anyone who calls themself a runner knows what the rest of the world doesn’t. That is, that if you hang in there long enough, you find exactly what you need. The experience comes uniquely, and at different points for each of us, but eventually it comes. Relaxation. Peace. Answers. Endorphins. Runners who run to run mostly agree that it is an amazing stress release, a mechanism to think clearly, and perhaps a spiritual experience. Running can be like a best friend. It can be the only constant in a whirlwind of change. It creates opportunities to better yourself and to make goals. It listens and doesn’t talk back. Sometimes it can be snotty, but it always makes up for it in the end. But what happens when we can’t run?
For one reason or another many of us have faced periods perhaps short, perhaps long, wherein we couldn’t run. I had an incident last week that resulted in a terrible epiphany. I am training for a 30k trail race, and have had a great training cycle thus far. But I also have celiac disease and in the past few weeks have experienced a fairly significant flare up due to some accidental cross contaminations while eating out at restaurants and not reading labels clearly. It is frustrating to say the least, and feeling sick gets old fast. I was in the middle of a celiac flare up and decided to head out on a solo training run on a sunday afternoon despite not feeling well. I wouldn’t normally run while in a flare, because the symptoms are horrible. If you are unfamiliar with the symptoms of a celiac flare up, they are similar to giardia. Not good. I was starting to feel a little better but wasn’t 100% but was feeling troubled and needed to go for a run to relax and do some thinking.
About 2 miles from my house I was doubled over and extremely sick. I felt defeated and stupid for leaving my house. For the first time in 20 plus years of running I had to call my husband and get picked up. I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to make it home. To put this in perspective, my legs cramped up something fierce around mile 20 of the Portland marathon and hobbled my broken self across the finish line of 26.2 without even thinking twice about bailing out. I just do not bail on runs, I am headstrong, and portuguese and I stick things out much longer than I probably should. But not this time.
My husband came and picked up and asked what was happening. I explained to him that I had felt sick earlier but thought I could make it out for an easy run. He asked why on earth I went for a run when I was sick and I told him I had been feeling stressed and needed to relax. At that point he said something basic and profound. “Amanda, at some point you are going to have to realize that running can’t solve all of your problems. You are going to have to find another way to cope because your body isn’t always going to be able to run”. What on god’s green earth did he mean? I am actually going to have find a way to think clearly and deal with stress without breaking a sweat and exhausting my body first? What kind of crap is that?
I have used running for stress relief and thought processing for as long as I can remember. Certainly all of my major decisions in adult life have been hashed out on a run. My father is a police officer and always expounded on the importance of stress management and proclaimed running to the best source. Throughout college if I whined about tests and papers and such he would ask “Are you running Amanda? Make sure that you always have decent running shoes, go for a run”. The decision between staying in Oregon, or moving to Maine or Colorado for graduate school? Colorado became the answer while on a run-both in Oregon and while interviewing in Colorado. Break up with a boy undeserving of my time? Yep. Conversation created in my head on a run. Move back to Oregon at the end of graduate school and leave my awesome friends for a boy? Yes, and that boy is now my husband. And we have moved a lot together since then, and I have been able to run almost anywhere. Thank you running.
So what do we do if our body just won’t let us run? A glass of wine helps, but not in the middle of a celiac flare-up. Yoga is great, the breathing is extremely calming, and it allows fidgety people like myself to relax while actually moving, albeit slowly. But what if our body can’t do that on occasion either. Perhaps I have become too reliant on my running to protect me. Perhaps I need to become stronger mentally. Lord knows that running a marathon, completing a doctorate, and enduring life’s other perils demands a certain amount of mental toughness. But perhaps that was toughness borrowed from endorphins, and borrowed from running. Perhaps I need to find the ability to make decisions and say the things that need saying without the sweat, dirt, fresh air.
What a tough realization. But I suppose this a trainable skill. Just like muscular strength, flexibility, or balance. But in the meanwhile, I’m gratefully going to turn to running for support because today my body let me run.
Make your day great,