What I Gained When I Stopped Trying to be a Runner
During the winter of my freshman year of college, in an effort to avoid gaining the dreaded Freshman 15, I signed up for my first major road race. I signed up for the 10 mile Broad Street Run in my home town of Philadelphia. I also signed my mom up too, without even warning her first. The training was tough, but rewarding and after our first race my mom and I were hooked. The next year we ran a half marathon as well as the BroadStreet Run again. Since that time my mom has gone on to complete several full marathons, while I've had an on/off relationship with running, signing up for races when it fit well with my schedule during that season of life.
During this time thought I had this idea that someday I was going to be a "runner". The kind of person who leaps out of bed and just HAS to get out there and hit the pavement before they even have their coffee for the day. Each race I signed up for would be the one that would make the difference, the one that would turn me into a runner.
When I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in the summer of 2016 I continued running through the joint pain and swelling even training for another half marathon. Ididn’t stop until my body literally screamed at me with nearly constant hip and knee pain. I had to be honest with myself and come to the conclusion that I was never going to be a "runner". Self love is a tricky thing. I used to think that to love myself I didn’t need to have the perfect body, but I did need to workout like I was attaining one. Turns out, when I gave up the crazy idea that I had to be a runner in order for my workouts to be meaningful, I loved myself so much more.
In April I quit running cold turkey and focused on exercise that actually makes my body feel better, not worse, mainly walking and yoga. During this transition I thought I would lose that sense of accomplishment I felt after a long hard run, but it turns out in the last 6 months I have gained more than I lost.
I love myself more.
It's really hard to beat yourself up for a "bad" walk or yoga class, but really, really easy to find faults with your run. Too slow, too short, bad form. The perfectionist in me wanted every run to be so perfect, that I ended most runs irritated and disappointed. These days I finish a walk, even a boring treadmill walk, with a sense of calm and accomplishment.
I am more productive.
Walks are a great time to catch up on podcasts or audiobooks. Yes, I can do this on a run too, but the talking felt more like white noise and less like actual content that I was absorbing. I also do my best thinking on a walk and because I'm not worrying about my pace or time I can pause to make little notes in my phone about these thoughts. I also have had some of the best phone conversations of my life while on a walk.
I don’t have to "psych" myself up for a workout.
When I was on my quest to become a "runner", I would plan out these elaborate training schedules and type them up on Excel, print them out and hang them up around my dorm room/apartment. (I know I'm PAINFULLY type A). Then I would drag myself out of bed to get the runs accomplished promising myself a latte at the end or that I would feel so much better drinking with my friends at night if I had a good run in the morning. In the moment I did not even realize how unhealthy it was to force my body to do something that felt unnatural or that brought me pain just so I could reward myself with food at the end or so I could brag about my 8 miler to friends who probably thought I was annoying. I rarely have to force myself to get to a yoga class (unless is Corepower Sculpt because that thing is just brutal sometimes) and I going on a long walk before or after work feels like a nice treat.
I get outside more.
Spending time outside is one of the best things I did for myself in the last 6 months. Most days the sun or wind on my face is enough to distract me from the crazy nonsense that’s always rattling around in my brain. And when I talk about spending time outside I am not talking about hikes on beautiful trails, though I do prefer that. I am talking abut 30 minute lunch walks around my parents 1/2 mile neighborhood loop or laps at sunset around the hotel parking lot because hotel gyms depress me or even walking to get my groceries instead of driving.
When I stopped trying to be a "runner", I also, without realizing it, stopped my quest for the "perfect body." Some of the best changes in life are ones that happen without you even realizing it. I can finally exercise without hoping for some kind of extreme body or life change. I'm not here to tell you that all of a sudden I love my uneven arthritic hips, big butt or muscular thighs, but every time I step out the door for a workout I know I'm doing it because I enjoy it, not because I am trying to become an unrealistic version of myself. I'd like to get back to running low mileage some day if my body will let me because 1. its the best way to bond with my mom and 2. there is nothing quite like the endorphins that hit you about 18 minutes into a run.