Running Taught Me To Love Life.
It was my gateway to a new life. It is my oxygen for life.
In the spring of 2018, at 46 years old, I began to experience the warning signs of a mental breakdown. At the time, I was a conservative evangelical Christian mom to fourteen children, twelve biological and two adopted. Of the fourteen, five have multiple disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to autism to cerebral palsy, so I am also a full time family caregiver. Terrified at the signs that I was becoming less functional, I sought advice from my therapist. Her advice? To make whatever changes were necessary to reduce the enormous, relentless stress load on me. Even drastic steps were preferable to the more drastic scenario of the mom of this family ending up in a psychiatric hospital.
As the needs of my family grew over the years, I had failed to put my own needs on my to-do list. My husband and I began to implement my therapist’s advice and make the necessary changes in the family. It took about nine months for me to gain enough margin to begin addressing areas of neglect and dysfunction in my life. One of these changes was to become more fit, as I was injuring myself repeatedly while lifting and transferring my girls who have mobility challenges. I decided to live like a healthy person until I became a healthy person.
I Joined A Gym
So in the winter of 2019, I found myself in a gym for the first time in my 47 years. In short order, I went from just using the elliptical five or six days a week to taking a HIIT class to heavy weightlifting with a trainer, to running for the first time in my adult life, and I LOVED IT ALL. Okay, in all honesty, for the first few months, I loved the fact that I was running but didn’t love the running itself. It felt miserable until I learned to slow the heck down and build my endurance base.
I went from self-loathing, being embarrassed that I had to have a body, to feeling proud of what my body could do, from mistrusting myself to gaining confidence to think for myself, from staying inside a tiny, white, judgmental evangelical bubble to making diverse, accepting friends with varied beliefs or no beliefs, from feeling like an overwhelmed failure to feeling simple human happiness for the first time in my life. These experiences caused a growing cognitive dissonance between what I had been taught to believe and the harm the beliefs had caused in myself, my marriage, and my family.
During that first year of fitness, I ran a couple of 5K’s, a 10K, a half marathon, and a mud obstacle race and was pleased with my results. I discovered that I am extremely competitive with myself, wanting to find out what my body was capable of, within the limitations of my life as a caregiver mom. Running did more than that, running taught me to love life.
2020 Changed Everything
In the spring of 2020, Covid hit, and within those first few weeks of quarantine I had time to think. I realized that if I was going to be honest, I would have to say that I no longer had any faith left. With the freedom to see reality for what it was, I began processing the fact that what I had experienced from birth to adulthood was traumatic religious abuse and indoctrination. I became a free person, and at the age of 48, it felt to me like my real life was just beginning.
That spring, I discovered trail running and instantly fell head over heels in love. It felt, and still feels, as if the sport was made for me. I registered for the most grueling ten-mile race on the East Coast, the Conestoga Trail Run, and trained all summer while processing a heavy mental and emotional load of religious deconstruction and the resulting loss of relationships. In the fall of 2020, I placed first in my age and gender category in a 5K race, in the Conestoga race, and in a 12K road race. During this same time period, I was processing the growing realization that I had never been straight my entire life.
Running Changed My Life
And just before Thanksgiving, 2020, a few weeks before signing up with a coach and entering marathon training, I met my person, the love of my life. I was immediately drawn to her; through her smiling eyes, her soul emanated kindness, goodness, honesty, intelligence, and humor. She supported me through the fallout of contracting Covid during the grueling weeks of winter marathon training. I ran my first marathon this spring, at the age of 49, and she cheered me on. She then cared for me tenderly afterward and allowed the recovery process to begin.
I am grateful for running. For the friendships and beauty of running. The fun and healing and pure joy of life it has given me. Running changed my life. Running taught me to love life.