When I was younger, I was constantly running away when things got tough. Whenever I heard bad news, I would instantly take off out of my door. Sometimes I was properly dressed, while other times I found myself barefoot in the fields across the street from my house. I didn’t want to give my mind time to respond to the sadness; I wanted to escape it. Somehow I was convinced I could outrun it. Of course, I knew it was impossible to run away from my problems. But for those short seconds or longer minutes, I felt free.
As I grew older, the weight of the world seemed to grow heavier. Each passing year added more responsibility to my shoulders: college dreams, friends and boyfriends, homework assignments, bills, the loss of loved ones. It was one reminder after another that the freedom of my childhood was slowly slipping from my grasp.
So I turned back to the problem-solving method I adopted during my childhood. I started to set times to go for a run, rather than sporadically taking off in the midst of fear. I would wake up early, lace up my running shoes, throw on whatever pair of shorts and T-shirt I could find, and run the same path around the lake that I had fled to when I was younger. I began to complete the entire circumference of the lake, and somewhere on that journey I began to find missing pieces of myself.
The scenery helped me focus, but it was the art of running that helped me clear my head. I began short mile intervals with just a simple lap. Soon, that challenge became too easy for me; I wanted something more. I was finding my energy increasing, and I didn’t want to lose this new sense of freedom I was discovering. I researched trails around my city and found so many closer to me than I expected. A short drive became the perfect investment for a run on secluded pavement.
I started to realize that therapy isn’t just found in talking to counselors and visiting clinics; sometimes it’s hidden in moments and hobbies that make us feel alive. I found healing in the form of placing one foot in front of the other, in the art of propelling myself forward no matter how hard it was to breathe or how tired I felt. I found discipline in perseverance; I found freedom within the miles.
I started setting goals for myself. A 5k seemed to be a good way to start. The more I ran, the better I felt. I would relieve my mind and body from the stresses of life for a solid thirty minutes, but those minutes and that sense of accomplishment resonated with me long after the run was finished. I found myself in a better mood; I was more positive and accepting of things than I was before. I was also sleeping so much better at night, no longer staying awake until early hours of the morning worrying.
Soon enough, I wanted to do more. I began increasing my goals, and eventually the 6, 7, even 8 miles became effortless for me. Accomplishing these objectives did more for me than just get me into shape; it proved I could do anything I set my mind to. It proved I could escape this darkness that lingered with me for so long, and it proved that I was entirely capable of achieving what was once believed to be impossible.
There’s something beautiful in your heartbeat, and there’s something encouraging about the air in your lungs. They work together simultaneously for a common goal. There’s a rhythmic chaos in the steadiness of your pulse and tranquility in the release of a deep breath. For me, running brought forth a reassurance that I was alive. My heart was no longer bearing a heavy burden; it was now full of a drive to accomplish greater things.
The day I finished a half marathon was a day I will never forget. I ran the 13.1 miles on the same trail that had become home for me. I had come a long way from my backyard escapes and the 100-meter sprints from my childhood.
Running became my self-care, my therapy, and my excuse for an escape hidden in the appearance of an exercise routine. Wherever my journey in life takes me, I know my legs and heart and lungs are ready to help me through the tough times I will encounter. I’ve run the backcountry roads of Illinois, in the streets of Russia, and parallel to the boundary of the mighty Atlantic Ocean in eastern Florida.
There’s more to running than just miles and timing and gasping for breath. There’s freedom and salvation. There’s reassurance and hope. There’s the belief that better things are possible. It’s taught me the importance of perseverance, and it’s proved that I am capable of obstacles once believed impossible. Running drives you forward in more ways than one.
What will you run for? Sign up for our Run For It 5k as a virtual runner to run or walk in your community on race day!