When I Run, I Am Empowered

When I Run I Am Empowered.jpg

Many who know me, know I love to run. I only became remotely serious about the sport a little over a year ago. While the idea of being able to complete a mile in under six minutes and breaking the tape of a finish line after running twenty-six miles consecutively always seemed incredibly romantic, I was not exactly born to run.

Always an enthusiastic participant, as a child I was present for every recess kickball match and double-dutch display. However, I was never anywhere near the fastest nor the most agile girl- toughest maybe; I could (and did) take a soccer ball to an oblivious face many a time. I have always been on the shorter side but was never one of those tiny wiry kids who seemed to fly through the air and never get tired. My legs are short and thick, really my entire body can be described that way. I am inflexible and was neither gifted with explosive speed nor an impressive natural stamina.

As far as sports go, I settled on soccer (as it was, to me, the most action-packed, team-work-centered sport available) and never stopped playing. Even in college, I became a captain on the Women’s club team. This is not to say that I am a talented soccer player. And I know what you’re thinking, “Oh she’s probably just being self-deprecating." But, honestly, I was never Mia Hamm incarnate. I have been playing soccer since I was eight years old but that is primarily because I hate quitting anything. I have this weird sense of importance attached to being an athlete. There is satisfaction in proving that I can manipulate my body to be and do what I want. And like I said, running always enchanted me. There is a hefty amount of running required to play soccer so, I knew the fatigue associated with cardiovascular stress quite well.

Running just to run, without purpose, yet with purpose as it is a legitimate sport, seemed in one word, noble. It is a certain form of willful discomfort, suffering even. I looked at track stars and was reminded of the pain I felt across my body- in my lungs, my trap muscles, my quads, my feet, etc.- after a set of suicides concluding a long soccer practice. I knew they had to be tough.

I could write a whole separate essay about why I never ran during my high school years, but two words, “inferiority complex,” basically sum it all up. I may have not stepped onto the soccer field with loads of raw talent but there was something I did have: Experience. I was confident that I could manage not to make a total fool of myself, or even worse, look athletically incapable.

In college though, I really began my relationship with long distance running. I was on the soccer team, but we only met twice a week. If I wanted to stay fit (and skinny), I needed to begin working out on my own. Working out, even voluntarily on my own, was by no means new to me, but I did encounter a lack of motivation at this time. Without play-offs to work towards, or a squad of overly invested high school girls relying on me to get there, or a coach that would punish us all if one did not pull their weight, working out just felt meaningless, purely for cosmetic improvement. To me, that’s just gross. The simple desire to look good is hardly motivating enough to challenge someone to exercise for the long term. I needed a deeper meaning (of course I did).

Perhaps this is how I put on ten pounds in my first semester. A small number to some, but to an emotionally erratic, overly analytical, eighteen year old Patricia with a past of disordered eating… “HA,” Fucking Catastrophic. I settled on the most basic yet brilliant form of cardio to help trim off some of the fat.

DISCLAIMER: I do not want anyone to think that my love for running spawned from my hatred for my body or my obsession with calories. In fact, my low self esteem kept me from running for the longest time. It still almost cripples me to this day. The fact that I do not "look like a runner," or because I was never on the cross-country team in high school, I fear that I am just a wanna-be. Nope, my eating disorder, body dysmorphia, whatever the fuck you want to call it, does not drive me to move quickly for fun. Part of my initial motivation to run was to lose weight, but I quickly developed a much deeper passion for it for much more rewarding, I guess you could say "healthier" reasons.

I was drawn to running because running is an event; an experience, a journey above all else. Futilely messing with each machine at the gym felt stagnant (probably because it is) and inexplicably shallow to me. Running, though quite difficult and grueling at first, felt natural, while the leg extension, tricep pull, elliptical, and even the treadmill felt uncomfortably artificial, almost like Botox or liposuction. To me, running is human, innate, and in its humanity, beautiful. Perhaps running is beautiful to me because it is a struggle and in the midst of writing that I realized that I have come to view beauty itself as a struggle.

Ask any runner, read any running blog, they all know. There is nothing like running. Aside from the hippy bull shit (consisting of terms like "runner's high"), I fell in love with running for a few practical reasons on top of the hippy bullshit- which, I will have you know, is all very real.

1.) You can do it ANYWHERE.

In the middle of the sparsely populated Texas Hill country, this is such a plus. It's cheap and other than on major highways or molten lava, is accessible from basically any point on Earth.

2.) Progress you can easily measure.

I guess one could apply this logic to lighting weights as well but being able to watch myself get farther faster was the most uplifting feeling. It makes you want to keep doing it.

3.) Health Benefits

Fuck the cardio haters. It is completely unnecessary for me to explain why running is great for your heart, lungs, and legs.

When I run, the only word that might be able to describe how I feel is empowered.

If I can run eight miles, I can work a double, no problem. If I can run eight miles, I can approach that guy I have always had a crush on. If I can run eight miles, I can get into Yale. That is literally how I feel at mile seven. As the cars zoom past me, I hold my head up high and pump my arms decisively. I feel strong. I feel as if I have it "together." Discovering that I have the ability to make it all the way from Point A to Point B in X amount of time and see thousands of sights along the way makes me feel (temporarily) like queen of the world/boss-ass bitch.

While my anxiety causes me to watch myself constantly, this actually is not a bad thing when I am running. Usually, it leads to feelings of ridicule and horror, but when I watch myself run, I am hit with feelings of pride and wonder. I actually imagine I am in a movie. Inspirational sport films have always tugged at my heart strings (yep, I'm a sap, I know it) and it is as if I am the star of my own. The music blaring through my headphones is the sound track and I am the athlete being pictured during the stereotypical training montage, getting faster and stronger.

Running is freedom. Running is productive. Running is individuality. Running simply is. Running is continuous, present tense, fluid, unfolding before you as you proceed. I would argue that it is the most emotionally intense sport one can engage in. I would not go so far as to say that running saved my life, but it most certainly helps me stay, and more importantly feel alive.

Patricia McCourt.jpg

Patricia McCourt

Patricia McCourt is a blogger raising awareness for depression and bulimia. For more, check out her blog, I Could Be Doing Something Else.