Why I began running

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.

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40 thoughts on “Why I began running

    • Thank you for your kindness – I agree it’s the best workout. I’ve learned so much about myself through running, plus it’s kept me healthy. Happy running to you!

  1. National Running Day and I’ve missed it! I’ve been hiding inside from the never ceasing rain all day! Darned tropical storms!

    I can definitely understand your reasons behind running. A lot of my running is the same way. I run to recharge. To process issues. To think about work. And home. And life. And friends. And family. So much of my life gets worked out while I’m running down the beach staring off into the water and the sand. There’s just a clarity there that is hard for me to find anywhere else.

    • I actually didn’t know it was National Running Day until I saw all my runner friends post it on FB. Bummer about the tropical storms, but I hope you’re staying safe and it clears up soon. I get what you mean about recharging – I honestly haven’t found anything that could mimic the effects running gives me. I hope to be fortunate enough to be able to run for a long time.

  2. Running can be so therapeutic. I haven’t been a “runner” since high school, but I do hope I’ll be able to get back into running soon. I’ve started jogging a little here and there, I just need to make it a priority.

    I appreciate you sharing such a personal story. I’m sure it was really difficult to write. I think there’s a lot we can learn from each others struggles and that only makes us stronger.

    • Thank you for your kind response, KK. I think it tends to be more difficult to talk about it rather than write about it, perhaps because of the semi-anonymity of this space. I agree reading about others’ personal stories and struggles, and them overcoming it, is very uplifting. Best wishes in going back to running.

  3. I know what you mean about feeling better each time you run. When I was seriously sick, I wasn’t able to run for the longest time, and it killed me. When I was finally on the upswing, I started running again and it’s a great way to mark improvements. I would hobble along trying to get may body back into shape, and then the next week I’d feel stronger, and then stronger the week after that. It’s an amazing feeling.
    I’m sorry about your dad, but is sounds like you found a great way to cope with it. Great post!

    • Yes, I know exactly what you mean about the improvements! It really is amazing how dramatically you can feel it with running, especially after a layoff. Sorry to hear that you were seriously sick for awhile – I know you’ve mentioned it sporadically in your writing, but I hope you’re able to run for many, many years to come!

  4. Wow what a powerful story Anna! First I’m sorry things were so rough with your dad and that you had a rocky relationship. I’m sure that didn’t make processing his passing easier. I know exactly how you feel about running though (although I do like routine, I do hate the treadmill) as far as gaining mental clarity from running. Running for me will either validate me if I’m feeling easy going, or bring up some nasty shit I’m dealing with if I’m having a bad day. It’s like it doesn’t have a filter. I’ve often found myself crying at the end of a run like it was some kind of therapy (thank god I’m wearing sunglasses!) 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Oh no, whenever I see a person running and crying I want to just go up to them and hug them (I don’t, though, I have enough social common sense to do so.). I know what you mean, though – it’s quite cathartic, and I agree it’s very validating. Thank you for your kind words on the post – I kind of felt vulnerable posting it, but now I’m glad I did.

  5. I teared up while reading this post Anna…I’m sorry your father hurt you so much in the past, but I’m happy to hear that you have found ambivalence through running. You are such a strong (literally) person and I actually really look up to you big sis 🙂 Thank you for being brave and sharing something from your past. xo

    • Aww, thank you for being supportive and always having my back, GMD! Stuff happens in life, sometimes great and sometimes not so much, so you just have to manage the ebbs and flows, you know? Thank you for always being so kind and loving, it means a lot, lil’ sis xo

    • Aww, thank you so much! I was nervous about the feedback thinking it might be overshare, but thank you for your kindness. Hope you’re enjoying your travels!

  6. Wow, thanks for baring a little piece of your soul. Cool read.

    For me, its bicycling or hiking a 14er. All kinds of stuff runs through my head on a good ride or climb. Like you, I do the same routes over and over.

    • Thanks for your kindness, Mr. 1500. You know, I agree about hiking (though I’ve only done one 14er since I’m such a sea level creature… do you ever take pics during hikes? Love to see others’ adventures). That’s great that you’ve found something similar and emotionally/mentally rejuvenating, as well, I think it helps with keeping things in perspective.

      • Oh, I take TONS of pictures! I’ll post some this weekend and send you the link. Stay tuned.

        Which 14er did you do? My first was Mt. Whitney in your neck of the woods.

      • Same here! 🙂 Had we not stayed in Tahoe for a bit to acclimate, I think I would have been in trouble. Can’t wait to see the pics!

      • I just went on a long hike down to a canyon and my mind wandered back to this post. My dad wasn’t super hot either growing up. He had a bad childhood and repeated the same mistakes with my siblings and I, including a nasty spell with alcoholism (bad, bad memories). However, my dad is still around and has improved. I haven’t forgiven him for all the crap he put us through, but at least we have a chance to work on reconciliation and he realized his mistakes.

        Enough about me. Things came to an abrupt end with your dad. I don’t need to know the details, but it seems like you’ve worked through it well and came out the other end a good and decent person. That in itself is commendable since many don’t turn out so well.

        So, I don’t know what Father’s Day means to you, but I’m sorry to read about what happened in the past and I’m glad to see you’re at peace.

        OK, enough with the serious shit! You and yours better join us for a hike should you make it out to Colorado! We’ll even spring for the drinks afterwards if that is your thing!

      • Serious shit, indeed, Mr. 1500 – thank you so much for reaching out and sharing your past… it’s responses like these that mean a lot. I’m sorry to hear you had a rough childhood, as well – I can understand how the forgiveness hasn’t happened yet, stuff like that runs deep. I do hope that over time, though, you’re able to make peace with him, or find peace with the situation.

        I do agree I came out alright (if I do say so myself), though not without a LOT of growing pains and a steep learning curve with dating crappy men (textbook daddy issues, for sure). B, however, is so opposite and I’m grateful for that, and he was definitely worth the wait. I also attribute to staying on right path to my mom, having to deal with a crappy husband, having three jobs, raising two kids, etc. I didn’t want to add anymore stress to her life. A decade ago, she found a really great guy, who has been a great father figure type for me. He is eccentric and his personality will come out on wedding update posts, but he’s made for happier Father’s Day memories.

        Happy Father’s Day to you, Mr. 1500!! Just from the few months of reading you, I can tell you’re a great father to your girls, not only ensuring financial security for them, but security in ever sense of the word. For sure, if ever we’re in Colorado, there will be hiking to be done (and of course, beer after – I love me some Newcastles and hef’s! :)) Happy hiking while your fam is in the cabin!

  7. Very thoughtful piece, you’re a very talented writer. I totally relate to you running-wise, I’ve always enjoyed long distance running (since I got into x-country at age 12). While I do a lot of training runs, sometimes my favourite runs are the ones I leave the iPod and watch behind and just run my lil heart out. The best ones are where you run until you cry and just get everything out. My best friend love these kinds of runs, sometimes we have no idea what we’re running for/from, but it feels so good.

    • Thank you for the very nice compliment! Your last sentence was kind of funny because I know exactly what you mean – I sometimes get emotional while running and wonder where the heck that came from, but afterward it just feels really amazing and calm, at times euphoric. It’s nice to know another fellow runner, happy running out there. 🙂

  8. Wow, thank you for sharing such a moving post. My wife loves to run and is for many of the same reasons. I am not much of a runner but do other things to have that time to get some mental clarity and the exercise is just the side benefit.

    • Thank you for the very nice compliment – I’m relieved to hear it wasn’t too TMI for some folks. I think it’s great that Mrs. FR loves running, and you’ve found activities that give you mental clarity, as well. It’s definitely one of the reasons why I value exercise so much, for everyone.

  9. Sorry about the relationship with your dad. Being a father I would never hope to have this with any of my children. I started running to allow myself to get away from the world. Just me and my music. Very comforting. Almost the same feelng I get from riding my motorcycle.

    • Thank you for your response – it’s okay, sometimes it’s what happens in life, but it’s encouraging to know there are great guys out there who wouldn’t think twice about doing something that would negatively impact their family. I agree about running with music – it becomes your own little microcosm, and it’s kind of nice. Motorcycles must be fun, as well.

  10. Thanks for your honesty and bravery with sharing your story. I am sorry for your relationship with your dad and the pain it caused you. I am so glad you found running as a way to (healthily) process all of this. I am getting more into biking, but would like to try running more seriously one day. After my insurance kicks in 😉

    • Thank you for your kind words and for always being so emotionally supportive. I agree, it’s a healthy way to process tough situations. I’m excited for you that you’ll have insurance soon! 🙂

  11. I’m so sorry about what you had to go through. I have similar issue with my dad that’s not resolved too so I know what emotional trauma you had to deal with. Thank you for being so honest and open about your life and I’m so glad that you found a positive way to work this through mentally and physically.

    • Oh no, sorry to hear you have unresolved issues with your dad, as well. It’s a tough predicament when it’s a parent, but I hope you also find a way to mentally and emotionally manage this challenge. My heart goes out to you, girl xo

    • Oh no, sorry to hear about the knee, but that’s great you found an alternative. Some fast-paced walkers even outpace me during races, it’s amazing!

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  13. Glad you found some peace with running. I am just getting started with running, so far I can only concentrate on the podcast that tells me to run and stop but hopefully will be able to use it to think and decompress later on.

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