10 years ago this month, I was newly separated. My husband had moved out in January, and while I was very sad that my marriage was ending, I was relieved too. The previous year had been a constant struggle, like I was carrying one end of a heavy piece of furniture up a flight of twisty stairs – straining because everything hurt, maneuvering around tight corners while walking backwards, desperately trying not to let everything crash down, and wondering why I was the one doing the hard part.
Then, it was like I finally put that furniture down, and I could breathe again. I could stop, stand up straight, get feeling back into my body, find my bearings. I didn’t have to carry anything anymore.
It was exhilarating. And also scary. I was 30 years old and had never been on my own, had never lived by myself. I went from living with my family to living with roommates in college, and then back to my parents’ house for a year after graduation until I got married. I had never dated as an adult. I had never made decisions without considering how they would affect someone else.
I was (am) also an introvert. I knew I needed to push past my natural tendency to hunker down and hide because being alone all the time would close me off, and I needed to be in the world and experience things to open up my life. So I made a rule to start to say, “yes” to things, and that meant going out with friends and trying new things, even when I’d much rather be in sweats on my couch reading a book by myself.
I also got in my head that maybe I wanted to train for a triathlon. Not an Ironman or anything crazy, but a sprint triathlon (which is roughly a half mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 3 mile run). I swam competitively as a kid all through high school, and also ran track, though I had only exercised sporadically over the years since college. Still, the idea intrigued me, and I set a goal to run three 5ks over the course of the year. Distance running was never something I enjoyed, so I figured that I needed to prime the engine before incorporating swimming and biking.
So when my friend, Kim, suggested that I come and run with her running group on Saturday mornings, I said yes, even though my mind was very resistant to the idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to run in the cold with a bunch of strangers.
To say I was out of my element that first day would be a huge understatement. I typically slept in on Saturday mornings, to 9 a.m. at least. But here I was, getting up before it was light to make it to the run by 7 a.m. It was cold, and I pulled on black yoga pants, an old ratty sports bra, a long-sleeved tee, and a pilling red fleece. My running shoes were old, but I figured they would be fine.
When I pulled into the parking lot where the group convened for the run, my eyes darted around looking for Kim. There was no way I was getting out of my car until I saw her. Luckily, she was there, so I climbed out of my car and jogged over to join her before I could change my mind.
Everyone else was wearing sleek technical gear – black thermal tights, fancy running jackets, hats and gloves festooned with swooshes and other logos. I felt a small flush of embarrassment at my outfit, but figured no one was really paying attention to me.
I was wrong, people were paying attention to me, but with interest, not judgment. A few of the runners started talking to Kim and me, and one of them asked, “So, what are you training for?”
Again, a flush of embarrassment. These people were training for marathons and Iron Man races. What was I doing here? But, I decided to answer with a self-deprecating joke: “I’m training to get used to getting up this early on a Saturday.” The super runners around me laughed, and I relaxed a bit.
I swallowed my remaining trepidation with a swig of Gatorade and Kim and I set off with the pack, clutching six-mile maps – the shortest distance offered – in our gloved hands. Six miles may as well have been a marathon to me, but Kim assured me that we’d take it slow and walk whenever we needed to.
And so we did.
I didn’t know anything about running. I didn’t know what gels or compression socks were. I didn’t know the importance of properly fitting running shoes or moisture wicking clothes. I didn’t know about fueling or recovery, about training plans or race strategies.
I didn’t know that in three months I’d run my first 5k and in three years I’d run a marathon – with many happy race memories in between.
I didn’t know that I would make new friends, or that running would support me and sustain me through work-related stress, dating, a bad break up and buying my own home. I didn’t know that in a couple years I would meet an amazing man at a work party, that we would bond over our shared love of endurance sports, or that eventually he would get down on one knee in the middle of our trail run one chilly winter morning and ask me to marry him.
Basically, I didn’t know that running would help lead me exactly where I was supposed to be.
That first morning with my running group, I just knew I needed to move forward – with the run and with my life – feeling the pavement under my feet, the crisp air in my lungs, my fear giving way to a sense of possibility.
I have not always run regularly over these last ten years. There was a four-year span between becoming pregnant with Isabelle and finally getting Zach to consistently sleep through the night when I was too tired to run with any real consistency, though there were periods in those years that I did. Still, I always knew I was a runner and that running would be waiting for me on the other side. And it was.
I still haven’t done that triathlon (some day?), but a decade into my running journey, I am filled with gratitude for what running has brought me – peace, connection, joy, strength, accomplishment, self-confidence, and so much more. I hope there are many, many more miles to go.