How Running Helped Me Learn To Love Myself
I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for as long as I can remember. For years, I’ve tried figuring out what triggers them but I’ve never had any luck. In August in 2014, as I pulled out of the driveway of my suburban home, the anxiety hit me like a rock.
My dad drove our old Pontiac minivan and my mom sat shotgun. I was piled in the back alongside all my belongings: shoes, clothes, food, pillows, blankets, and precious keepsakes. It was 6 am and I was on my way to Kutztown University to start my freshman year of college; the only problem was that I couldn't breathe.
Everyone told me that these would be the best years of my life, that I would party, meet amazing friends, and have the time of my life. They didn't talk about the stress, fatigue, and anxiety that would come along with it. As I watched my parents pull away from the old brick building I now had to call home, a familiar lump formed in my throat. For the first time, I was on my own.
I was lucky to make good friends my freshman year and that my boyfriend ended up at the same university. By the time I was finishing my first semester I was drained both emotionally and physically. I had gained more weight than I ever had and I was unhappy. I hated everything about myself and my body.
My life changed when a good friend convinced me to try running with her one day. What? I did not exercise...I mean...I owned a pair of Nikes, but that was about it. I don’t know why I did it, but I went with her. I couldn’t even make it a half mile; my body screamed and yelled at me to stop. I wasn't made for this. It was in that moment when I realized I needed to make a change.
Body image has always been a problem for me and this time in my life was especially bad. I noticed every single roll my body had, I was hyper-conscious about how my thighs jiggle when I walked, I noticed my arms and how they flapped like wings. I saw everything except the good.
Gradually, I started running more, increasing to an average of 3 miles as a long run. The more I ran, the less I got that familiar lump in my throat. I found my anxiety decreased after a run. It became my escape, my own personal therapy. I didn’t call myself a runner though, I didn’t tell people I ran. In fact, I was embarrassed by my running. I hid it.
What if someone asked me how fast I ran and learned that I was running 14-minute miles? They’d laugh at me.
I kept running my little secret until my junior year of college when an acquaintance texted me during the summer in search of a place to live. What I didn’t know was that Jordan was also a runner. That fall, she completed her first half marathon. I was, and still am, so proud of her but that day, I sat on my disgusting and rock solid college cot feeling sorry for myself.
I wanted to run a half marathon but I didn't think I’d never be able to. Not fast enough, not good enough, not strong enough, too fat... The excuses circled in my head. I let the dream die somewhere in the back of my mind alongside my childhood dreams to be a princess or
a fish. After all, I wasn’t even a runner.
On February 6th, 2017 my life changed. Jordan invited me on a group run with her and her running partner. They were both half marathoners! There’s no way I’d be able to keep up with them! It was impossible! But just like the day I decided to lace up my shoes for the first time ever, something strange happened: I decided to go with her.
I ran faster than lighting and further then I'd ever run before. It was my first runners high. Five miles was impossible for me, but with Jordan, it was a breeze. It was on this day that on
a whim, I decided to run a half marathon, St. Luke’s half marathon that very week.
The St. Luke's half marathon forever changed me. I stepped into corral number three feeling nervous. I felt like I didn’t belong and that despite months of training, I knew deep down I’d fail. I looked around and took it all in. I noticed people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and all walks of life.
It was in that moment that I realized that I did and I still do have a runner's body. That because I lace up my shoes and show up, I have a runner's body. That it didn't matter if an unsupportive family member told me I'm a “heavy” runner, I am here. I am running. I am strong.
I crossed that finish line and felt that same familiar lump in my throat. But this time, it was from sheer joy. I ran a half marathon! I kicked anxieties butt! I knocked self-doubt out of the park! I learned to embrace my strong as hell body!!!
Running has transformed me. I have completed three half marathons, a 10k, a 15k, a 5 miler, trail races, and countless 5ks since St. Luke’s. I have overcome injury and I have beat doubt. I look in the mirror and I know who I am now. I continue to train and push past uncertainty. I have two half marathons and my first full marathon on the calendar for 2018.
This year, I will once again lace up my shoes for St. Luke’s. I will show up and honor this journey exactly one year after it started. I can do this. I will do this because I can.