I've never been much of a runner. I joined the track team for 2 weeks in 6th grade before quitting because the coach made us run too much. Too many things hurt when I ran: my heels, my knees, my muscles, my lungs. Knowing I had to run a mile in under 7 minutes in order to make the high school volleyball team almost made me want to cry (for a sport that requires short bursts of energy, they sure put a lot of emphasis on long-distance endurance).
But once I stopped playing sports and spent most of my time in class or at a desk, I really missed physical activity. Suddenly I had to worry about staying in shape or watching what I ate - the demands of high school and college-level sports had previously kept me lean and conditioned. Once strict coaches were out of the picture and I had no games to train for, well, I fell off the exercise wagon (although to be fair I did need a break in order to heal). And what could probably be diagnose-able OCD was never more apparent than when I was most sedentary.
I hadn't realized how important exercise was for my physical, mental, and emotional health. But I still hated running. Give me an elliptical and some free weights any day. Except when I didn't have the money for a gym membership and I was sick of all my workout DVDs.
It was when I was working at the library, my first grown-up, full-time job, that I caught the running bug. I was inside a temperature-controlled building (usually sitting) for 9 hours a day and commuting for another hour. I missed fresh air and movement. So one evening, when I just couldn't take another minute of sitting in my apartment, I grabbed my shoes and went outside.
It was glorious. And painful. And there were moments I thought I was going to keel over and die. But there were more moments where I simply enjoyed the smell of clean air, the feel of a warm breeze, and the thought that I could go anywhere I wanted - I was free. And without realizing it, a smile started to creep across my face.
I would say that I worked up to running longer distances (no more than 3 miles), but it was never really work. All I did was challenge myself, to see if I could make it one entire loop around the complex, then a loop with a detour to the front entrance, then past the entrance to the intersection, then all the way to the movie theater and back. And I mostly ran at night, when the air had cooled off, the sun wasn't in my eyes, and my stress level was at its highest. Running calmed my brain and tired me out physically so I could sleep (this is still true, and to this day I consider it cheap therapy).
When my husband and I moved to Indianapolis we didn't live in an addition, and I didn't know the area well enough to run at night (which I still love to do, but don't). I mostly gave up on running until our second year there when I met a friend (hi Nikki!) who ran, in my mind, ridiculous amounts. She told me that 3 miles was the magic number. If you could run past the 3 mile mark, you could run forever. So I tried it.
I signed up for a 5-mile trail run (with Nikki) and finished in 1 hour. It was the second time in my life I had run 5 miles at one time. After that I kept running for awhile, but mainly on a treadmill (booooriiiiiiing). One afternoon, after a break from running and strenuous exercise in general, I decided to lace up, just to get out of the house. I figured I'd run across the street in the addition and head back home. But then I kept going. And going. Halfway through it started to rain and that smile crept back onto my face. It was just like running at night again. I was outside in the fresh air, cooled off by Mother Nature, and I felt freer than I had in a long time. When I got home I calculated that I had run 5 miles.
There's some truth to the 3 mile wall, although I might argue that it's a moving target. Whether it's 3 miles, 5, or 20, there comes a point where you feel like you just can't go another step. (Or, if you're like me, everything hurts and you think this is the stupidest thing you've ever done in your entire life and why oh why are you subjecting yourself to this monotony when you could be inside watching TLC?). But then you keep going for another few minutes because you're already out there, or because you don't want to be a quitter, not today, and suddenly the pain goes away. Your body goes a little numb and you settle into a groove where everything -- your breathing, your footfalls, even your thoughts -- align.
For me, this is when the smile appears. Every time. And I wonder if anyone is looking at the weird lady smiling to herself (especially when I'm on the treadmill), but I don't care. I'm too happy to keep it in. Because this is me at my best. This is me conquering the voices that tell me I can't do this, not with these beat-up knees or post-partum ankles. This is me learning that I can still accomplish anything I set my mind to, and that my body is strong enough to get me where I need to go. This is me.