Even though I was always an athlete growing up on every sports team imaginable, I never thought of myself as a runner. Running was for the smaller girls. I was the kind of kid who played 3rd base because I had a strong arm, or 1st base because I was taller than the rest of the kids. I wasn’t the girl who ever played shortstop, because those were the girls who were good runners. I plaid the big girl position, always. I was the girl who played fullback in soccer because I was big and strong and aggressive and could stop the momentum of the forwards, but the forwards were the girls who were good at running.
In sports, running was often used as a punishment. Missed the free throw? The whole team then had to run a suicide. Bad batting practice? Take a lap. I remember one early morning when we were conditioning in preparation for the volleyball season, our coach had us running on the bleachers. Running on the bleachers was particularly stressful to me, because it was so easy to slip and fall on the slick stairs. But once we had all gotten the hang of it, it became a timed group effort. The coach told us we had to finish the figure 8 around the bleachers in 2 minutes. If we made it in the allotted time, we could be done running the bleachers. While that seemed hard, we were all determined to finish as fast as possible because we were exhausted. Anything to avoid another set! My stomach churned at the thought but I wasn’t about to let my anxiety stop me from finishing on time. I was the second to last one coming off the stairs and onto the ground in front of the bleachers, so close to the finish line. Suddenly I had to throw up.
I stopped to throw up only a few yards away from the finish line. The girl behind me made it in time, and I was positive that the coach would have to count it as a success. If the entire team made it in time, and I would have too had I not had to puke, there was no way he was going to make us do it again. But he did. Not me of course, I was still recovering from vomiting, but the rest of the team had to do it again. And they resented me for it. How could they not? If I were able to keep it down, we would have been finished with the torturous workout. But instead, I was allowed to sit on the grass as the rest of the team had to run again, all thanks to me.
Even in gym class where we ran longer distances, I thought I was a terrible runner. Each week we had to run a mile. I dreaded the mile run because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my running time down enough to get an A. As an athlete in gym class, and as a student who was devoted to getting good grades, this was so frustrating. An A required me to run a mile in under 9 minutes. If I made it between 9 and 10 minutes, I got an A-. If I got between 10 and 11 minutes, I got a B. I was used to getting A’s in school, and I was used to physically exerting myself in sports. But I could never manage to get an A on my weekly mile runs. It made me feel really bad about myself, like I wasn’t a true athlete, even though I had a great arm for softball and was a solid volleyball player.
I had decided that running wasn’t for me. I was bad at it, for one, but it also was always used as a form of punishment. When I was in college and no longer on sports teams, I would work out in group fitness classes and head to the gym for some time on the elliptical but I would never run. I didn’t want to punish myself the way my coaches did and I really didn’t want anyone to watch me, a fat girl, on the treadmill. For years after high school, through all of college, I didn’t run. I got into yoga and spin class and HIIT workouts but never running.
Then one day I was trying to find a workout that I could get my boyfriend to do with me. He tried yoga with me once and wasn’t a fan, he said he would go to spin with me but I could tell he wasn’t interested. So I suggested we try running, solely because we could do it together for free on our own schedule, right here on the sidewalk in front of our home. He begrudgingly agreed. Neither of us were enjoying it much at first, we were pushing ourselves too hard and weren’t giving ourselves breaks, but I mentioned to my coworker, a fellow plus-size athlete and runner, that I was giving running a try. She was so enthusiastic, she brought it up with a plus-size fitness trainer we were collaborating with at the time and she, too, was full of enthusiasm for me. I had been keeping this new thing to myself, because I knew I was always a terrible runner. But both of them had bodies that looked like mine and they each ran regularly, so with their encouragement (and a super gradual 5k training plan) I stuck with it.
My morning mile, here in Los Angeles.
Now, I run regularly and I enjoy it. I try to run one mile every day. Some days get too hectic and I skip my run, and other days I don’t feel up for running in the rain, but for the most part I put on my shoes and go. And I actually like it. For about 13 minutes of my day, I clear my head, I sweat a lot, my heart pounds in my chest, but it feels good. Believe me, I do not run fast at all. Even after running this mile regularly, I still allow myself to take a 1-minute walking break after every 5 minutes of running. I am not trying to get faster and faster and faster, like my former coaches would have, and I’m not punishing myself for a slower day, I am just trying to run for me. When I run I get amazingly creative ideas, a burst of energy that lasts much longer than caffeine, and a sense of clarity through my morning brain fog. Not to mention I get to blast my favorite tunes and I always come home with a mood boost. None of those things add up to a punishment.
I wish the phrase “joyful movement,” had been around when I was torturing myself to try to keep up with the girls who played shortstop and the long legged runner girls who scored all of the goals in soccer. I wish I could have seen running as a form of self-care then, as a joyful act my body could appreciate, the way I do now. I wish I hadn’t gotten graded on my speed in gym class, or gotten punished for pushing my body too far in sports. If I were to be graded on the same scale for my morning miles today as I was in high school, I would probably be getting a B- or even a C which would completely take away my sense of accomplishment. But I am so grateful that I now have running as a tool in my arsenal, and I’m proud of every mile I’ve run. It’s helped me process all of my feelings and it’s even given me a sense of normalcy during quarantine. Running is always there for me, every hour of the day, no matter what else is closed. It’s not there to punish me, it’s not there to make me feel bad about my performance, it’s just there to make me feel good about myself.
If you too are in need of an ego boost, a jolt of energy, or just need to sift through your own thoughts, I recommend giving running a try. Start small with just 30 seconds of running at a time, paired with 2 minute intervals of walking, and decide if you’d like to take it up a notch. Go at your own pace, savor the feeling of being outdoors, take breaks, let yourself have water, and don’t feel pressured to compete. But most importantly, allow yourself to feel accomplished. If 30 seconds of running feels easy, celebrate that feeling. You deserve to feel joy from your workout. And during quarantine, we need all of the moments of joy we can get!