On The Run
When it comes to the legendary stories in my family, along with the one where I bit the doctor who dared try to give me a TB test falls the story of the time I sobbed about having to complete the one mile run in high school. It would probably be more accurate to say times. Plural. Because every.single.year that one mile run caused a serious breakdown.
So imagine the surprise that resulted two years ago when I started training for the Richmond marathon.
It wasn't pretty. But I did it.
* * *
"Stop saying that. You can run. That's the thing about running. Almost anyone can do it. You just need to start."
My boyfriend was a runner, and was packing for an extended trip to New Zealand when he finally got tired of hearing my complaints that I couldn't run. He gave me a project for his time away - go to the reservoir across from campus and start with running around it once. Then slowly add on a length as I was able.
So after work and on weekends I would climb the overgrown hill up to the water. I am pretty sure I was dressed totally inappropriately, and my shoes were likely designed for something other than running, but I went anyway. I ran along the uneven dirt trail bordered by ugly chain link fence, taking in mouthfuls of gnats about every ten feet. I wanted to die the first time around. But I kept going back. And finally, one day, I didn't feel like I wanted to die, so I added a little more on. And again. And again.
By the time he got home, I think I was up to about 3 miles.
* * *
Our relationship ended, but my relationship with running didn't. I was up to running five miles in a go and was feeling proud of myself. I couldn't believe it. I was a runner!
And then one day, seemingly out of the blue, I had to stop and walk home after a particularly laborious half mile. I was winded and weak and chalked it up to a bad day. But then there were several bad days in a row. And then I couldn't even go half a mile. And I didn't know why.
It turned out that the why was cancer.
* * *
My mother is a gym teacher which means my personal brand of childhood rebellion was to eschew anything that involved physical activity. I was the captain of the golf team, but that was as sporty as I got. She tried to get me into gymnastics, dance, and soccer before giving up and leaving me to the band room and the tee box.
While I've discovered how grounded cycling and yoga can make me, I am still a reluctant runner. I am not fast. My body is a bit too curvy to really want to move itself for miles down the road, and I'm far too clumsy to make me even a decent trail runner. But still, I run.
* * *
After my lymphoma experience, I wanted to get back to running. So I decided to run the Phoenix half marathon. I barely trained. It was not pretty.
But I discovered something during that race. I discovered that running - the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other - allowed me to declare to cancer that I had won. I was still alive, I was healthy again, I was running. Try as it might, cancer couldn't take my freedom to run away from me.
So I kept running. Each time, no matter how much distance grew between cancer and me, my mind couldn't help but go back there. To remember how cancer tried to keep me from running. To remember that it didn't succeed.
Running is my constant reminder that I am still here.
* * *
It seemed only natural that I plan to declare victory this second time around with another race. And it seemed that there would be no better motivation to reenter the land of the living than to get back on the street. I'm still not excited about people and leaving my bubble doesn't sound appealing, but I knew running would help me take those first tiny steps forward. That it would bring me back to life again.
So I woke up this morning and joined the crowds gathered for half-marathon training. I am in the slowest novice group. I can't go more than thirty seconds without needing a break. I walked the entire last mile of today's run. At eleven days post-chemo, my body isn't entirely ready for this. My mind isn't entirely sure its up to the task. But my heart really, really wanted to run.
As we took off, my mind was catcalling me in uglier ways than any guy on the side of the road ever has. "You aren't strong enough," it mocked. "You don't have the stamina. Who are you to do this?" I contemplated running directly back to the car, but I had ridden with a friend so that wasn't really an option. So I kept going, feeling the impacts of the chemo on my heart and lungs the entire way.
But at the end of three miles, as I trudged up the final hill alongside the new friends I had made in the hour that just passed, my heart swelled up and the happy tears threatened to spring to life. I had made it. Sure, I was bringing up the rear and my morning was anything but a personal record, but I had made it. My body survived major surgery and brutal chemo and then after all that, it survived three miles.
And in that moment my heart reminded my head that it doesn't matter how fast I am right now. I am strong enough.
I'm stronger than I ever knew.