“The rearranging of how I view myself has cleaned the smudges off my mirror.
Where there once was shame, now there’s grace.”
The first time I ran for exercise I was 18. I got so dizzy I was seeing triple. I stumbled back to my dorm room and lay on my bed, feeling sick and ashamed of how little my body could handle.
I had played tennis all through high school.
I walked with my mom all the time.
I swam all summer with my cousins and brother, every summer as far back as I could remember.
And still: my body was failing me and I hated it for its ineptitude.
The second time I ran for exercise I was 23. My Army husband was deployed and I was determined to spend my time and energy well. I lasted 6 minutes before I was dizzy and had to stop.This time, though, six minutes was SIX MINUTES!
I felt strong, able, and accomplished. Until I felt my body give in again to weariness, exhaustion, and illness. I felt so discouraged — again.
Recognizing The Nevers I Was Facing
For the next 13 years I had a back-and-forth relationship with running. Loving it until my body hated it. That included a sprint triathlon and a half-marathon, by the way. And still I thought:
I’ll never be the runner I want to be.
My body will never let me do what I want to do.
I’ll never be the person I want to be.
Until I decided that being a runner doesn’t have a specific definition.
Until I decided where I could find control.
Until I decided that being the person I wanted to be had a lot more to do with the courage inside me than the performance that showed on the outside.
Put simply: I learned that it had a lot more to do with how I treated myself than how my body responded to my life.
So in the year 2020, after a four-month illness left me struggling to breathe on a one-mile walk, I decided to calm whatever storm I could. I decided: I am a runner.
Redefining The Nevers in My Life
I will run a mile until I can run two, then I’ll run two until I can run four. And when I move to New York in the beginning of winter, I will still run. I will run through sub-zero temperatures with two layers from the waist-down and three layers from the waist-up. I will breathe. I will pray.
I will give thanks for this body that couldn’t run but six minutes fifteen years ago, and here I am: nine months into a Monday-Wednesday-Friday running routine that has spanned temperatures from negative seven (-7 degrees FAHRENHEIT, y’all) to well into the low 100s. The weeks I’ve felt like garbage, I took the rest and felt no shame.
Because look what my mind and body can do when they’re working together.
They can run. They can rest. They can recover. They can give each other grace.
Running Toward My Soft Never
Six minutes was a starting point, but I didn’t know that until I made some choices, the most important one being: I’m in control of my never.
I’m in control of my “never going to be a runner” because all it took was me changing my mind and reminding myself of the truth: there is no one definition, and I run therefore I am a runner.
I’m in control of my “my body will never…” because all it took was a lot of groundwork, some therapy, and some problem-solving.
I’m in control of my “never going to be the person I want to be” because that has more to do with the inside rather than the outside, and I can change that any time I want.
Maybe I’ll never win a marathon, but that’s because I don’t want to. But saying I’ll never run a marathon? Maybe I want to. So maybe I can.
Saying I’ll never be a professional baker? Maybe I won’t be on the Food Network, because I don’t want to. But maybe I’ll make gluten-free and dairy-free treats for my local Farmer’s Market, because I want to.
My Nevers are all pretty soft these days.
The rearranging of definitions has opened my eyes and my heart to a more welcoming human experience.
The rearranging of how I view myself has cleaned the smudges off my mirror. Where there once was shame, now there’s grace.
Where there once was self-loathing, now there’s beauty. Where there once was discouragement for ineptitude, now there’s confidence in my capability.
All because my hard “I’m never gonna be/do” turned pretty soft — and I’ll run toward that all day long.