It’s National Running Day, and instead of taking advantage of the Rock and Roll running series discounts, I figured I would talk about why I began running. Though a part of it was purely physical – I had some weight to lose and thought I would take it up in order to get rid of the excess weight – there were a lot of mental and emotional connections to starting, and staying with it, as well.
My first year of college, my dad passed away… during spring finals week, to be exact. Though I had some fond memories of him when I was young, throughout my teen and early adult years, it was tumultuous. He was a “get rich quick” type, and would take on businesses. When they didn’t pan out, he’d try again, and since some relatives in our home country had some success, he went back there to get a piece of the success. While he was there, he also decided to take up a mistress, which became the downfall of our family unit. He also did some pretty shitty stuff in addition, but something I’m not getting into.
He came back to the U.S. with said mistress (and what became of the mistress after his death is an amazing story on its own), right around the time I graduated high school. Because of this, I kept him at an arm’s distance, so much so that I didn’t even know how critically ill he was until he was on his death bed. Seeing him from healthy over New Year’s to emaciated in June was tough, and something that’s burned in my memory. I was pretty numb at his funeral.
After his death during college, I was so busy with classes and social activities, that I didn’t really process his death. Once I graduated, and had a more balanced schedule with free time, it all came to a head. Maybe it was a mixture of quarter-life crisis, gaining weight, and having time to reflect, but with all this crazy energy, I went for a run.
I chose this set path that I was familiar with. At first, I was huffing and puffing, noticing even a half-degree incline and struggling with it. A car with d-bags honked, frightening me, and I became so frustrated that I vowed to choose another activity. But then, I looked to my left, and noticed the ocean, the sun setting, and how beautiful it was, and decided to try one more time.
That time became multiple times. And over time, the runs became easier, both from practicing better stride and becoming fitter. But I also noticed some mental and emotional changes stemming from it. At first, there was so much hurt and unresolved emotions from not talking with my dad, not having a chance to confront him or make amends before he passed away. I recall feeling these emotions at a beginning of a run, but with the rhythmic breathing I had to do while running, it would all dissipate by the end. I suppose it’s like active meditation, and this is when I became hooked on it. I felt that running was a remedy for hurt or pain, despite the irony that I at times felt physical pain when I ran longer and longer distances. The trade-off for mental balance and emotional calmness was well worth it.
And, over time, the most notable thing I noticed was the progression of the hurt and pain from his death. I’m a creature of habit and tend to go on the same running routes (so much so that I’m pretty sure I was a hamster in a past life – I can run on the dreadmill for 10 or so miles and not get bored), and I would know the routes like the back of my hand, from every turn to every incline and practically every crack on the path. And, as the months went on, I would notice how, hey, last month when I went around this bend, I felt a lot sadder than I am now. I felt better and better each time, and my awareness of it was uplifting. I would notice this upward trend every week/month and had a mental graph of it, and after awhile – I didn’t feel the hurt anymore, as my happiness was off the charts.
I guess, in some way, running helped me make peace and resolve issues in unresolvable situations. I think about my dad now and I no longer feel bitter or sad, both because it’s been many years and due to using running therapy (and not gonna lie, traditional therapy). I still don’t feel love or happiness, though, to be quite honest… just ambivalence. But it’s peaceful, and it’s what works.
So when I run now, there are times when I do still tune out and just run… but often I’m hashing things out, whether about work, relationships, or whatnot. It’s given me a lot of mental clarity and emotional balance, that the physical benefits of it is just icing on the cake. And for that, I’m grateful I found running.