Running changes you.
A year ago today, I ran my first – and thus far, only – half marathon. The race was not the accomplishment. The race was but a (very expensive and somewhat painful) celebration of the real accomplishment, which was the months of uncomfortable and unglamorous training. In the course of about 12 weeks, that training had taken me from someone who hated running and avoided it at all costs to a girl who could get up and run 11 miles on a Saturday morning without thinking twice. As I said – running changes you.
In some ways, it changes your body. Your feet will get callouses in all the right places. Your lungs will become stronger and more efficient. Your muscle fibers will actually gradually convert from one type to another if you are running consistently enough. But the physical changes are only the beginning. Because running changes you. God help you, it will change you in ways you never saw coming.
Running will teach you things about yourself that you didn’t know before. If you run, you will discover parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. Running will teach you that your natural response when you are exhausted and in pain is to second-guess your abilities and consider quitting. Running will teach you that you can change your instinctive response to exhaustion and pain to one of reflecting on your strengths, your past successes, and your reasons for putting yourself through training that is exhausting and painful.
Running will surprise you. You will get to mile eight one day, and be shocked that you are still standing. Two weeks later, you’ll be shocked when you get to mile eight and have the energy – and desire – to run two more miles. Running will surprise you when you outline your big presentation during six predawn miles on a Wednesday morning. It will surprise you when you find yourself unafraid of the ache in your lungs and the heat in your legs and the pounding in your chest during that last quarter mile sprint. Running will surprise you when you find yourself embracing the discomfort and the pain, because you know how it
Running will open doors. But these are not the grand and stately doors of enlightenment. Instead it’s the creaky, moss-covered, cobweb-stretched door of a pandora’s box that opens to all kinds of things that you perhaps never wanted to think about but maybe – just maybe – really needed to think about. Running brings you head to head with the kinds of thoughts that only really come to life when you are so exhausted and so much of you hurts that you simply don’t have the energy to fight off those thoughts that you’d rather not think. They’re ugly thoughts…but that’s alright, because running isn’t pretty. There may be no better time to wrestle with something hard and painful than when you are already in pain and out of breath. It can be a beautiful catharsis, a symphony of heartache and burning lungs and pounding feet, and the whole soggy mess gets left on the trails. That’s the wonderful thing about running – it ends. There may be pain in your life that is a constant, but the pain of running and whatever demons you may face on the road always has an end. And after you’ve finished and you’re home, you get to experience that exquisite moment standing under the shower, letting hot water wash away the battle. There is nothing quite so satisfying as coming home soaked in rain and mud and tears and sweat, and watching all of it rinse down the drain. There will always be more miles to be run, more hardship to be faced, and more tears to be wept, but for now…for now, you are done. You have covered the miles and grappled with the darkness and you can leave it behind with the miles, even if only for today.
And the next time you go out to meet the miles, you will find you are different.
A little bit stronger.
A little bit less afraid.
A little bit more ready for what lies ahead on the trail.
A little bit more ready for what you’ll find inside yourself.
Running changes you.