Measuring miles

I ran 130 miles this year. Broken down into numbers, it doesn’t look so big: only 57 runs in 365 days, my total workout hours adding up to just one turn of the Earth. But to me it feels huge, especially given that my first workout of the year looked like this:

IMG_1883

I took that picture in June, when I finally felt something close to confident that I could handle the exertion. I had a hiking trip coming up, and I needed to do something to prove I could handle it. In any other year, this wouldn’t have been an issue. I’ve struggled with mental health my entire adult life, but I had never once doubted my body.

This year was a different story. Toward the tail end of 2016, a deep fatigue had set in, and my body no longer felt like mine. I got some tests, tried some diet changes and vitamins, but the exhaustion only worsened. After a sad post-Thanksgiving attempt to rally, I stepped off the treadmill, lightheaded and defeated. I wouldn’t exercise again until that short, slow, agonizing mile in June.

I wouldn’t have believed then, or in February when I became too tired to walk two blocks to the bus stop, or in March when I needed a 10-minute rest after lifting a blowdryer to my hair, that by December I’d break 4 miles for the first time in my life, and run a 5K in 28 minutes (okay, 28:17). Once I got my feet moving, though, I didn’t want to stop. Anxiety is a disease that doesn’t let you sit still. It is always trying to pull you back. To hold your ground, you must move forward. I’ve found the best way to do that is literally. “Without regular running,” Scott Douglas writes in his piece on running as treatment, “the underlying fabric of our lives—our friendships, our marriages, our careers, our odds of being something other than miserable most of the time—will fray. For those of us with depression or anxiety, we need running like a diabetic needs insulin.”

For me, that medicine is a moment I sometimes find early in a run, when I’m starting to get my pace and my body has warmed up and I can tell this is going to be a good one, when the music hits just right and everything is beautiful, everything is fine. I can feel the tension drop from my body as the happiness ripples downward. I move a little faster, a little lighter, maybe even dance a little. It’s a moment I live for now, perfect in itself and also a reminder of the feeling I try to find in other parts of my life, the reason to get out of bed and out of the house, the point of it all. When you’re stuck in a place where you can’t find that feeling, even a mile feels like a miracle. Next year, I’m going for 300.

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