19 december 2016

Finding joy in running

I sucked at running for a really long time. I still remember my PE teacher’s astounded look when I didn’t finish last in our last run in 9th grade (yeah, I do silly things like never forgetting stuff like that... don’t be like me, it’s much better to just let go of that crap). I didn’t like it, it was impossible most of the time despite my best efforts. My throat ached, side stitches and foot cramps was my body’s default setting, and I could barely breathe. At one point in 2013 I got up to 10K and I was so proud I could burst, but it still wasn’t fun or easy, at all. I ran that 10K and then I quit. After a 3 year break, that all changed.

Suddenly I was surrounded by people who loved running, were excited about running, knew a lot about it and sometimes seemingly even lived for running. I was seriously intrigued, but it took a long time before I started thinking that maybe I could learn to be that excited and happy about it, too. It was a radical mental shift, from something I should do to something I could potentially feel euphoric doing. That was exactly the shift I needed. Practicing deep breathing for about a year prior had also taught me how to breathe properly, and I had finally understood the importance of drinking enough water.

I still remember the euphoria when I first broke 17K and felt like I could keep going forever. Man that was cool, and I promptly had to tell all the most important people in my life about it. I swear you turn into an unbearable social media freak when you feel really awesome about something you do. That’s okay. Maybe half the people seeing a picture of my GPS watch or my new running shoes think I’m just another nag who does those things to get more attention, but hopefully the people who really matter see that I am just happy as hell and want to share my joy with as many people as possible. The people who matter the most to you will just be happy for you, no matter how crazy or weird they think you are for doing whatever you’re doing.

Was it easy? NO. Was it fun? YES!! I had some false starts and bumps along the way. I started way too ambitiously and limped for about 3 weeks. I ate and slept too little and then tried to run 20K. I had to skip three races because I wasn't feeling well. The summer heat got stuck in my head and I frequently had to stop and almost drown myself in the nearest pool of water. I ran a half marathon on the worst day of my period in 23 degree Celsius heat and literally wanted to quit over half the distance, but powered through because I.am.no.damn.quitter. I made myself a promise and I kept it. That is worth more than any medal or pat on the back you can get.

Limping for three weeks and running into that famous wall already at 13K taught me that my body actually has limits, limits I have never really approached or challenged before, and so wasn't aware of. It hit me like a sledgehammer - had I ever attempted to do any serious physical activity for over 2 hours straight without resting before? No. That was cool, learning that I can push my physical boundaries as far as I'd like as long as I learn how to. It also taught me patience. Some people will laugh at that, and it's true patience is not my strongest virtue, but all that means is that I have ample room for improvement to work with.

Skipping those races seriously challenged that patience. I had paid good money for them, everyone I know knew about them, and I had been running regularly for 3-4 months to prepare for them. I was feeling strong and had had no serious injuries since my mistake of starting out like a complete n00b. Bit like a balloon popping, really. But health is more important than money or pride or even proving something to yourself. At least that's what I told myself while in bed, stuffing my face with whatever I could find, huffing and puffing and swearing loudly. It was an important lesson to learn, and I proved something else to myself - that I can override my immediate wants, goals and feelings and do what I know is right. Funny how you can turn all perceived failures into a life lesson, an Aha! experience, a success... reframing it, finding the perspective that throws a different light on the situation.

Most of my long runs have been utterly amazing. Sunday sunsets in Stockholm during late summer and fall are fantastic. I never feel better or think more clearly than when I’m running about 20-30K a week. As a bonus I had to learn to take care of myself better than ever to be able to run that much, and the benefits of eating, sleeping, hydrating, stretching and breathing properly have spilled over into all other areas of my life. I have learned that I’m exceptionally prone to experiencing Runner’s High, so much so that according to my physical therapeut I got sciatica from running too much simply because I feel so damn good doing it. My body doesn’t know when to stop because it’s just happy as hell.

45 minutes of approx. 40 kg pressure on an elbow in all my most painful spots sorted out the sciatica... and I’m never skipping my foam rolling and stretching again, cause ouch. I would likely have gotten it anyway at some point. Things that are out of alignment tend to make themselves known when you put your body through it's paces. If anything I have learned to deal with those things instead of ignoring the slight pain here and there, working on correcting habits that would eventually give me more significant issues. I've even gotten rid of my regular foot cramps with my trusty double massage ball, and my doctor has pretty much given me permission to walk around without shoes on at work. Okay, call it excuse if you want, I'll take it anyway ;)

I wanted to be a runner for the longest time, but for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t until I had given up on it completely that it kinda found me, at what seemed to be the perfect time. See? Life is actually frigging fabulous, and it can only get better from here. Just start somewhere, try something that intrigues you, and see where you end up. It won’t ever be what you expected, but it will be different and it will be awesome. Ditch some dreams that aren’t floating your boat anymore, find some that will. It won’t be awesome all the time, but over time it’ll be pretty goddamn great. Bit like investing. If you watch ‘em like a hawk you’ll just feel miserable and make stupid mistakes, but over time - BOOM.

I miss running. I had the flu for a week and a stubborn cough for over a month and now it’s suddenly winter. I am considering getting some serious winter gear so I can get out there without risking my neck on the icy roads, or even getting on the conveyor belt at the gym. Not running literally drives me nuts these days… something about my body being used to a whole new level of endorphins zooming around. But I can live with that addiction, because I have never had more energy.

Have you ever gotten yourself into something that gave you more than you could’ve possibly imagined?

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