What makes you happy? Suzanne asks.
I think for a moment, hoping to recall some new or exciting passion or, perhaps, something old—a rekindled interest from happier times—but the more my mind races the emptier it becomes.
Then it hits me: I have no idea what makes me happy. I have no idea what I enjoy.
After a minute of hesitation I reluctantly say “well, running.” Suzanne knows this already so I wonder why I say it. She had to be asking for something deeper, something more.
Don’t I enjoy anything anymore?
While it is sort of sad this is my default answer, the defining feature of my life, running is my happiness, and it has saved me in more ways than one.
I found my passion for running in the summer of 2010, after more than a decade of depression and self-loathing. I never set out to become a runner; it happened accidentally when my dear friend invited me to participate in Tough Mudder, the self-proclaimed “toughest” event on the planet. (My entry in the race was a gift from her, and to this day I do not know that she realizes what a gift it was.) The day she submitted my registration form, I ran a mile through Northeast Philadelphia. I struggled to breath, my feet throbbed and my calves ached—the typical “running” complaints, all of the things that make most people stop. But I made it, and that was something. In fact, that was more than something; that run was everything. Those shitty sneakers (not even running shoes) with their sub par support and torn laces took my ass off my KLIPPAN loveseat and away. I was in control and literally making strides for my life.
You see, up until that cool summer day my life was pointless. It didn’t feel pointless, it was. I was lost. Sure, I was functioning. I went to work, went to the bar after work and hung out with “friends,” kept drinking in front of the TV after I arrived home and went to sleep/passed out sometime between 11:00pm and 1:00am, but everything was rinse and repeat. I counted down the minutes it would be before I could go back home and hide beneath a blanket or slip silently into a corner. I counted the drinks it would take before I could “be happy” or, more accurately, forget I was sad. But running gave me something else—something I never found at the bottom of an Oscar’s tallboy or on “Taco Tuesday” and I clung to it.
After trekking twelve miles through fire and mud, up and down motocross hills, crawling through tunnels, and jumping into – and climbing out of – a freezing lake (see: Tough Mudder) , I knew I could do anything. But since I am not a fan of the cold, I turned my attention from extreme obstacle courses to marathons. I registered to run my first half-marathon the following fall: September 18, 2011.
When asked why I run my answer two-fold: I run because I can and because I have to. When I was fifteen, I learned I had a 47-degree curve in my spine and would need back surgery. Six hours, five screws, two ribs, and one steel rod later and the lumbar region my back was fused. I was unable to do any sort of physical activity for an entire year; I couldn’t even carry a backpack or purse. (My family treated me much like a collectible, a porcelain doll, better set on a shelf than played with.)
Running reminds me I can do it—I can do anything. Running reminds me I am alive.
I run on workdays and weekends, at home and on vacation. I run to clear my head, to listen to my thoughts, to solve my problems, and even to avoid them. I have run in memory of my father, in celebration of myself, and through good times and bad. I have run with an injured knee, torn tendons, shin splints, and heel spurs. I have run with tears in my eyes and the deepest pains in my heart. I have run to save my life, to escape my life, and—once—with the intention of ending it.
To date I have run four half marathons, two 10k’s, and one ten-miler. This does not count the countless miles—and hundreds of hours—I have logged “off the course.” And every step I take, every single mile I run reminds me how very strong I am, even if I cry while doing in. When I run I am a powerful, strong, and stubborn woman. Running is all about me. Running is there for me when nothing (or no one) else is, and it is the one and only time everyday I get to be selfish, and I like it. Even when I feel like shit and have been beaten down—literally and figuratively—running gives me hope.
I run because I want to and because I need to. Besides, waterproof mascara works wonders, and the finish line photographs fail to distinguish the difference between sweat and tears.