I walked by the local university’s track today. I pass it often, but this time I insisted on walking in.
I started walking on the track and immediately felt an indescribable joy. I took my sandals off and felt the roughness under my feet. I sat down. I laid down on the red rubbery surface.
The sight, the smell and the feel of the track – of any track – is happiness to me. It may sounds silly, but it is.
Oh, those memories…
I didn’t grow up playing sports. I was kicked out of gymnastics at 4, then from jazz ballet at 12 – both after few months of trying. This sums up my athletic career: that, and failing gym in 5th grade and walking the gym mile every time. Oh, and I broke the mirror at my first – out of 3 ever – aerobics class. Athletics was not for me. And running: forget it, not even after the bus.
Yet, at 19, freshman year in college, I decided it was somehow a good idea to join the cross country team. Great going. Attending the informational meeting, the coach rambled on about cross country frequently mentioning words like running, practice, workouts and races. I am pretty she was talking about it like it was fun. I wasn’t so convinced.
I walked to my first practice, but seeing a group near the track I decided “it must not be them” so I decided to walk away. It was too late, they spotted me already. “Miss, miss, are you from MATC?”, a guy with dread locks was waiving towards me. There was no way out. He asked me about my running experience. “My running what? I don’t run…”, I thought when he continued telling me that the day’s workout was “just an easy 6 miler”. I didn’t really know how long a mile was back then, but I didn’t think 6 of anything that is related to running can be easy. I suffered through the run. I didn’t stop. I took me about an hour and 12 minutes. I can run 9 miles with that finish time and I am pretty sure my 10 mile PR is faster. At home I quickly learned 6 miles is about 10 kilometers…
After 2-3 more practices I had my first race. I didn’t get last, let’s leave it at that. I ran my first 5K somewhat over 27 minutes I think, possibly close to 28. I didn’t care or know about times back then. But as I quickly improved I soon became obsessed.
Running became a love affair. An obsession. And my identity.
I ran cross country. 5Ks and 6Ks. I ran track. Mostly the 5K, but also the 10K, 3K, 1500, mile, 800 and I was thrown into the 4×400 for good measure as needed. I ran road race. 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, and 10 milers. I tried two trail races. I raced during college season and continued during the summer. I raced every weekend and went crazy during the few off-weeks. I got a scholarship to stay in the US. Then I stopped track and focused on half marathons and roads instead. Eventually I did my first marathon in 2008. I BQd.
I hit my 800 repeats. I lifted weight 4 times a week. I ran in rain or shine. I ran with migraines. I ran sick. I calculated my splits all day long. I became somewhat anorexic obsessing about calories and jumping on and off the scale 2-3 times a day. Then I lost control, started binging in secret, everything sight and gained weight rapidly. I got better eventually.
Let’s be honest, I became obsessive about running. At one point it was my only friend. It was my identity. It was the only thing I thought I was good at, but never good enough always having room to improve and far from the Olympics. Running was my social life and for short times even my love life too. Running gave me self-esteem, yet ruined it even more by comparing my body and my times to others’. Running was life and without that there was no life. Running was a way of hiding. Running was an escape.
Yet, despite of the obsessive and unhealthy relationship I had with running, I truly loved it. A part of me always had a healthy relationship with. Running was true love for life.
In 2008 the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to me did happen. I lost running…for a long-time at least. Suddenly I developed hip issues. Femoral neck stress fracture? Labrum tear? FAI? MRIs, bone scans, x-rays, doctors, PTs and a LOT of money…nothing helped. At times I couldn’t run for months on end, other times I could tolerate short runs in pain, Eventually I started having lower back pains too and spent a summer practically in bed. That was fun considering that I even had chronic, non-stop headaches by that time too.
Then after 2.5 years after a radical yet simple change in shoes and healing approach against all doctor, PT and internet advice, within a few weeks I was running pain-free. As in, no hip and back pain. I still had headaches. Worse than ever. All the time.
I started building my mileage slowly. I ran in the Turkish mountains and the grey streets of Albania. I ran flat surfaces and ran hilly trails. I ran rain or shine. I raced a few times. I ran more and more. I was happy. I knew I would run again, and finally I could. I ran with chronic headaches. It sucked, yet running still helped bringing some joy into my pain.
Running was not an obsession anymore. Running was a good friend. Only that.
I ran through pain. I ran through another major weight loss due to my sickness, healing diets and an elimination diet. Then I ran through another rapid weight gain, increased healthy calories, unhealthy binging, bulimic episodes, revisiting my ED phase and struggling with my body image. I ran through healing physically and emotionally. My headaches stopped. I was completely pain-free. I could run with a clear head. I worked on myself. I dropped the self-hate slowly. I became happy.
I ran happy. I run happy.
I am not perfect. There is always so much to learn and work through on.
But running is there with me.
Running was always there since my first practice run nearly 13 years ago. It was there through obsession, through depression, through eating disorders, through physical pains and through times when I wanted to give up everything. It was there through healing, traveling, freedom, joyful moments, small improvements, and happiness. It was there when I was a fast college runner. It was there even when I couldn’t run at all. It was there as I was increasing miles. It was there when I finally hit my old mileage. It was there when I broke my toe – again – and had to stop for 9-10 weeks. It is here now as I am increasing my miles.
As I was laying on the track I remembered everything. I remembered my running journey. I felt grateful.
Running on the track – practice and racing – was a beautiful time of my life. I can’t imagine doing it again. Never say never: maybe I break the master’s record at 80… But for now, track is just a memory.
But running is for life.
I have no desire to race and to do speed workouts. Sometimes I tell myself negative things “You are just scared”, “You are lazy”, and “you are making excuses”. But the truth is: it is not in my heart.
Running is true love. But it is not an obsession anymore. It is not about times, PRs, comparisons and grueling workouts.
Running is just running.
When I am running I am free. Running on trails I feel one with nature. Running on streets I still feel closeness the the universe. I see the sky, I feel the sun (or the cold, the snow or the rain…), I notice cute animals and I feel happy. It is a sacred time with myself. My ideas are flowing. I feel energetic and creative. I feel supported somehow. I feel more than who I am. I feel loved.
I may do races again, though not any time soon. I want to run an ultra, then possibly many more. But I will never look have goal times or look at the clock. I will never obsess.
I will only run for happiness. I only run for happiness. I see no other reason to it.