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300 Miles of Self-Esteem

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I don’t know why, but I always wanted to a runner.

I think it had something to do with the fact that every time I saw someone running, they looked so free and so powerful.  It was just them, with nothing to carry them or propel them forward but their legs and their minds.

Something about that is really awesome to me.  It was one possible mark of athleticism that I always really wanted, but never thought I had in me.

I played tennis growing up, was on my high school’s varsity team and even made it to the state competition my senior year.  Throughout college I was an on-again/off-again gym rat, but it became obsessive during the end of my junior year when I began to struggle with an eating disorder.

When I started to recover, I wanted to forfeit exercise all together.  I wanted nothing to do with it because I was tired of going to such dangerous lengths to change my body.  Of course, there are plenty of ways to be healthy and enjoy a positive relationship with exercise without trying to or actually losing weight.  There are also ways to enjoy exercise without being obsessive about it.

So of all months to start running, I chose December in Colorado.  Now, that actually sounds a lot worse than it is, because if you’re a true Coloradan, you know that March/April get a lot more snow than December, and that we get more days of sunshine than Florida, but it can still get chilly and windy.

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(This picture was taken on a particular sunny day in January–warm enough to run in a tank top!)

On December 1, 2012 I laced up and hit the pavement in the hopes of actually becoming a runner.

I had tried to “be a runner” several times, but I never stuck with it.  I’d get a surge of motivation and it would die out just as quickly as it came after I realized that running a mile straight is actually really difficult if you’re not used to it.

And I wasn’t.  Not at all.  Not even close.

My very first run was miserable.  I couldn’t breathe very well and I was so out of breath.  More than the indication that I was physically out of shape, I realized that running had a really unexpected effect on me–it made me angry.

Not just irritated, but angry, in fact, seething.

I didn’t know what that was all about and my extreme emotional reaction to it made me doubt whether or not I was actually capable of being a runner (or being fit in general) or whether this was a sign I should just stop.

I stuck with it though, wanting to see where running would take me, literally and metaphorically.

In the past year I’ve run 300 miles.  Sure, it’s not a lot by the standards of some runners who can pound out 50 miles a week, but for me, it’s a significant accomplishment.

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I ran religiously 3 to 4 times a week for about 4 months, then 2-4 times a week for another few months, and have averaged about 2 since the end of the summer and beginning of school.  I skipped a few weeks when I was in Ireland and Scotland and this past November when I was swamped with midterm work before Thanksgiving, but caught back up by the end of the weekend.

What I learned was that with each mile I covered, I was earning my self-esteem and self-confidence.  I realized that there’s a difference between exercising because you feel like you “have” to, as a punishment, or because of an obsession and exercising because it makes you feel good.

I found that I enjoyed running the more I did it, and when running wasn’t satisfying me completely, I found Pure Barre and a blend of the two has worked really well for me fitness-wise and emotionally.

Exercise for me is more than just physical fitness, it’s the way I earn my self-esteem, the way I show myself how powerful I really am when I don’t set limits on my abilities.

I don’t exercise to lose weight or fit into a specific clothing size, which were the two motivations I used to have for exercising. In fact, I don’t know what I weigh now.  I do know that I’m stronger though, my endurance is far better than it was a year ago, and I’m a lot happier with a stable and healthy exercise routine.

Before I started recovering from anorexia, I wondered if anyone could a) actually recover and b) actually have a healthy relationship with exercise once in recovery.

What I’ve discovered is that for me personally, I’ll occasionally still have urges when my stress level gets too high.  When that happens, I know I need to take a step back and ask myself what’s going on and what I need to do to fix it.

As for exercise, I know that if I feel like I “should” go for a run, it’s a sign that I really shouldn’t.  Maybe my body can handle it, but for me, “shoulds” are a sign of old eating disorder voices and it’s better I deal with the underlying issue.

I can’t say that I’ve looked forward to every run over this past year, but I do know that I’ve never regretted a single one.

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Running made me feel alive.  It made me feel a power and inner strength that I really didn’t know I had. 

The best part is that what you put into running is what you get out.  I know that every time I go for a run, I’m getting better at it. 

It’s not my goal to be the fastest one out there, or have the best endurance.  My goals in running change often and though I trained for a 5k and a 10k this year, I didn’t run an official race for either.  Next year I do think I want to train for and actually run a half marathon, but maybe that will change.

I find that running works best for me when I just focus on enjoying it, and if training for a race becomes unenjoyable, I don’t feel the need to push myself to do it and risk resenting running in the process.

Looking back on the last year, I can’t believe I actually stuck with it, though at times still wonder if I’ve ‘earned’ the right to call myself a runner.  I think I have though, but I don’t think that title is earned by participating in races.  I think it’s earned by dedication and devotion. It’s earned by pushing your limits but also knowing how far is too far on any given day.

Running holds a special place in my heart and an important place in my life.  It’s my therapy.  It’s where I get out all the emotional garbage that piles up.  I leave that shit out on the pavement and come home feeling more powerful than when I started.

That’s what makes me keep running.

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{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Melanie @ HappyBeingHealthy December 2, 2013, 11:34 pm

    Love this post! I feel the same way about running. When I first started running 5 years ago, I couldn’t even run half a mile. BUT, I kept at it and it has been so fun to see my progress. I’m certainly not an amazing runner, but I’ve run farther and faster than I ever thought I could. It’s definitely a confidence builder and stress reliever. I love it. I’ve also never regretted a run. I can’t believe you ran in January in Colorado in a tank top too!

    • Alex December 3, 2013, 6:33 pm

      Thanks, Melanie! I think it’s awesome you’ve kept with running so long! I’m really looking forward to seeing where it takes me. Yeah people are always surprised that Colorado can have such extreme weather! We had a really nice January this year, though tank tops are not typical during that month, but still possible!

  • Jan @ Sprouts n Squats December 3, 2013, 4:08 am

    Love this post and loved hearing more about your story too. I so love my running too and love the feeling of pure joy it brings. I’ve not thought about how it also improves self esteem but you are so right it really does.

    I read a quote on Pinterest that said simply ‘If you run, you are a runner’
    Jan @ Sprouts n Squats recently posted…Trial Tuesdays – A MishmashMy Profile

    • Alex December 3, 2013, 6:34 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Jan :) I love that quote!

  • Davida @ The Healthy Maven December 3, 2013, 8:21 am

    Such a positive attitude on running. I hope to be in that same mindset one day but I think my relationship with running went a bit too far over the past few years. I’ve had to take a step back and learn to trust my body again but maybe sometime next year I’ll give it another shot!
    Davida @ The Healthy Maven recently posted…Pumpkin Recipe Round-UpMy Profile

    • Alex December 3, 2013, 6:35 pm

      I think you did the right thing to trust your body. If it works for you in the future, great! If not, also great! Sounds like you know what to do and what’s right for you. That’s what really matters I think.

  • Tina@GottaRunNow December 3, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Good for you on sticking with it and running 300 miles! Running can be a lot of fun, but it can be hard at first.
    Tina@GottaRunNow recently posted…Book: Continental Quotient & Running EarbudsMy Profile

    • Alex December 3, 2013, 6:35 pm

      Thank you, Tina! Yeah, running is definitely hard at first. I still find it really challenging, but it is fun :)

  • Matt @ Runner Savvy December 3, 2013, 5:55 pm

    Tennis player turned runner here too! I burned out my senior year of high school playing varsity. I’m played off and on, but I like running more :)
    Matt @ Runner Savvy recently posted…#Elf4Health UpdateMy Profile

    • Alex December 3, 2013, 6:36 pm

      That’s awesome! Nice to meet another tennis player turned runner! I haven’t hit in ages but I’ve missed it. Running is just easier and more convenient than tennis, if you aren’t on a team or part of a club.

  • Ashley @ Kick Ash Mom.com December 4, 2013, 6:27 am

    This is exactly how I felt about running! Remember though… Running should be just how you feel now. Enjoyable, all about how awesome you are. Don’t get caught up in the times, distances, and all those numbers! I am taking a step back from running now but there is still something inside of me that knows I am going to get back into it when I’m more stable.
    Ashley @ Kick Ash Mom.com recently posted…Meet. Bellie.My Profile

    • Alex December 4, 2013, 12:29 pm

      It sounds like you really know yourself and what’s best for you, Ashley! So I think it’s awesome you’re taking a step back from it for now. I agree that it should be about how we feel now, so if in the future running doesn’t make me happy, it won’t be something I’ll force myself to do, but for now running and I are cool :)

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