STARTING OVER IS HARD.
I went for my first run in 7 weeks tonight. I didn’t really plan on it, I just felt the feeling for the first time in almost two months – I wanted to run. As much as I love running, movement and I have a complicated relationship. Sometimes I go two months without running. Sometimes a year. Other times, you’ll find me up at the crack of dawn or running with my lighted vest in the dead of winter, not missing a day for weeks.
This summer, I planned on training to run the Twin Cities Marathon again this fall. Life happened instead. Chronic illness and a lingering injury, too. I went back and forth for a while trying to decide if I wanted to train for another marathon while teaching summer school, planning a class reunion, and taking three classes. One early morning, while running with a friend, moderately hungover from a fun night out with a different friend, it hit me like a bag of bricks. I actually stopped mid-run and told my running friend, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here. All of my free pockets of time are being devoted to running and it feels like a chore.” Feeling relief, I finished the long run.
And 7 weeks later, tonight, I got it back – the wanting.
I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote “BRAVE” on my arm (therapist recommended) and fired up my Garmin to track my distance/pace (not therapist recommended). I put on my dirty sand volleyball outfit from the night before, found my black Nike hat, got my Lizzo playlist queued up, texted a friend to announce my inaugural run and asked her to send me good vibes (she did!) and headed out the door.
If this seems dramatic, it was dramatic. Here’s why.
Starting over is hard. Having known a marathon-ready body makes me feel like I don’t belong in my non-marathon-ready body sometimes. Knowing that this time last year, I was running 20 mile runs on the weekends, and today I slept until 4pm because I was up until 5am brings up a lot of self-judgement and self-comparison. I don’t know about you, but I am very competitive with myself and with others. I have to distance myself and set firm boundaries with some athletic friends because of this competitive/comparison tendency. I’ve gone on many “comeback” runs and felt angry, embarrassed, sad, and ashamed during and after because of my pace and endurance (hence the therapist recommendation to ditch the Garmin). Starting over is hard. Here’s how I did it.
- WEAR SOMETHING COMFORTABLE. I wore my dirty outfit from sand volleyball because my body image is in a vulnerable place these days. If I hadn’t picked a comfortable outfit, my run would have been filled with negative thoughts. Did I look silly in a baggy long sleeve shirt tucked into sandy Nike leggings and a Nike hat with my eccentric Warby Parker glasses? Maybe. Did I care? Not this time.
- FIND A MANTRA. My mantra tonight was simple: BRAVE. I’ve written other things on my arm before, words like: kill the hill, here we go, wanting is enough, and i will. If you think you will need a reminder to yourself at some point during your run (or really an life event), write it on your body; it doesn’t have to be noticeable to the world, you will know it’s there.
- FIND YOUR SONG. A kick-ass playlist is hella important when you need an extra boost during a workout. Mixed in with my upbeat workout jams, I always add my song to the playlist. My song is “Old Pine” by Ben Howard. It makes no sense in a playlist with The Chainsmokers, Lizzo, Macklemore, and Drake, but it’s the song that always grounds me. When I’m running and “Old Pine” plays, I take 6 minutes to appreciate the view – the leaves, the ponds, the birds, the sunset, my feet moving forward. I intentionally add this song to my playlists to remind myself of the privilege it is to be able to move; to remind myself how far I’ve come and recovered from. It’s 6 dedicated minutes of gratitude and makes all of the difference.
- START SMALL. Tonight I alternated between running 1 mile and walking 1/2 of a mile. I repeated this three times. I planned on doing it twice, but there was something special in the air tonight. I didn’t feel fast. But, I did feel my heart pounding, the wind through my hair, pavement under my feet, and the sunset hitting the deepest parts of me – all comforting me. I didn’t run 3 consecutive miles like I normally would on an easy “shake out” jog, but I ran 3 miles! I ran close to my home, on a trail that knows me well. Start small – too much too soon can lead to injury and can leave you feeling defeated rather than empowered.
- WAIT FOR THE WANTING. Follow the feeling as soon as you are able, before it passes – you won’t regret it. Tonight, I planned on running two miles. Instead, I ran three because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to. Because of this, I know I’ll run again soon.
I wanted to share this with you, dear reader, in case you also are having a hard time getting back to movement or connecting with your physical body. Movement doesn’t have to be running – you could go for a walk, stretch, ride your bike, mow the lawn, or find a yoga flow class. If all of this feels impossible (especially to my ED recovery friends), be gentle with yourself, care for your body in even simpler ways. Paint your nails. Take a bubble bath. Brush your hair. Pluck your mustache. *winky face*
Starting over is hard and we all have to start (or restart) somewhere.
Maybe now is the time! Maybe it’s not, and that’s okay too.
Trust yourself and your body will know what to do.