People think that you help me keep fit or lose weight. Some say I’m addicted to you, hanging out EVERY SINGLE DAY. Even my closest family don’t really understand what’s between us.
I can’t remember exactly when we were introduced, but I’ve been running regularly for at least 25 years, only stopping because of injuries when competing at Uni. Since I ditched the stopwatch some 15 years ago, the longest break we’ve had was a whole consecutive 9 days after Max was born. Including the day he was born! (You’ll be pleased that he loves running as well :-).
I first turned to you to escape whenever things got tense in our small flat in Soviet-style Plattenbau block. I fell in love with the sense of freedom and confidence you gave me when I got faster. You have opened the world to me; you took me on a great adventure to the US and paid for my studies. You have been my way of exploring the world, including unlikely but fascinating running destinations such Paraisópolis favela in São Paulo and fracking fields in the Permian Basin. It’s whilst running that I saw a small brown bear in the hills around Sinaia, Romania — my most exhilarating encounter with a wild animal. I’ve lost count of how many beautiful places in nature you’ve shown me, and nature is where we go 99% of the time.
It is whilst running that I do my best thinking and come up with ideas. You help me process emotions and solve complicated issues. Sometimes we enjoy the company of my favourite podcasts or music, and sometimes even of other runners, but mostly it’s me and you.
You’ve been there for me through the happy and shit times and through moving country three times. You saw me become an athlete, a mum, an activist. You’re my core identity and the constant in my life — it is you I hold on to when everything is changing. You help me, without fail, to find balance and strength to face it. You pull me back up in dark moments. Two steps breathe in, two steps breathe out; the rhythm of my breath, my feet pounding the ground and the beauty around, sometimes completely still, sometimes violent with wind and rain — that’s all there is when I run. I find joy in it no matter what. I can stride like this for miles. Reconnecting mind with the body with the springy dirt road and the living world. Everything else is on hold, in the background.
I owe you my wellbeing if not my sanity. That’s why you’re my priority in day-to-day existence — before food, work, and relationships, and only after sleep. Whenever I travel, running shoes go first in the bag. I forget a toothbrush but never the shoes. You are my best friend.
Now I’m about to lose you and I’m scared. You taught me how to push through pain and exhaustion and find my second wind. But some things cannot be overcome this way. I’ve known for many years that my feet needed surgery. I put it off because Max was small and because I could not face having several months' break from you. I took a steroid shot and kept running, managing the pain with insoles, special shoes, ice, sports tape, various corrective devices… But the bunions ‘grew’ and ruptured my second toes' plantar plates, really screwing up both of my feet. I also found out that I have something called joint hypermobility. All three podiatric surgeons I consulted in the past 6 months were in some disbelief at how deformed my feet were given my relatively young age.
Miraculously, I can still run with relatively little pain and enjoy it very much, but with time, my feet will get even worse and likely affect my knees, hips, and spine. So, today I am on an operating table having four different procedures on three toes of my right foot. It is a big op. If — and it is a big if — everything goes well, I will have to do the same for my left foot… Tomorrow is my 39th birthday and I have a big wish — to have the patience to sit on my ass for however long it takes to recover and to be back with you on that dirt road as soon as I possibly can.
P.S. There’s a sound scientific basis for what I describe above. Running releases endorphins, improves circulation, blood flow to the brain, and it makes us live longer. Check out this podcast referencing some great research into the topic — I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg. By the way, walking is great too ;-)