The idea that I should take up running first seriously came to me during the safety drill at the start of the first and only cruise I’ve been on. I stood on the deck of the cruise ship, in the front row. A crew member with a French accent said, “If you hear the alarm bells, bring warm clothes, bottled water, and all medications and come to this spot. It doesn’t mean we’re going to evacuate, but be prepared to wait a long time while the captain decides what to do.” Even though I knew it was a routine drill, panic rose inside me. My heart started racing and I started to sweat. We hadn’t even left the shore and I felt trapped. Someone behind me made a Titanic joke. Then a thought crept into my mind. “Maybe I should take up running.”
A few weeks later, on my way home from brunch with a friend, the thought occurred to me again. It was a beautiful day, and I thought maybe I could try running that afternoon. A discussion began in my head.
“Where would I put my keys when I run?”
“You could put them in the pocket of your sweatshirt.”
“What about water?”
“I suppose you could carry a water bottle while you run.”
“Do I bring my phone?”
“If this is too hard, you don’t have to run today.”
“Ok, I won’t run today.”
Then five minutes later, this inner debate would begin again, until I realized that I kept debating because I actually did want to try running that day.
Later that afternoon, I put on my yoga clothes, walked to a quiet side street where no one would see me, and started running, one foot in front of the other. I felt light. My anxiety flew off me, my anger exited my body through my feet as they hit the pavement. I felt free. It was more fun than I would ever have thought possible.
I kept running after that first day (and by running, I mean alternating running and walking, which I think counts). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was easier to get myself to do it than I thought it would be. Unlike yoga or a dance class, I didn’t have to get myself to the studio and commit to a certain amount of time. Running was something I could do where I was, for as much or as little time as I had. I didn’t need to buy any fancy equipment (although I probably should have bought a good pair of running shoes sooner than I did instead of running in old Target sneakers).
I have also been surprised at how much it helps with my anxiety. I started running at a time when I was feeling a lot of frustration, anger, and anxiety about how my life was going and running helped me take a break from those emotions and give them somewhere healthy to go. Now, when I don’t run for awhile, I can feel anxiety creeping back into my body and taking control.
But the most important thing to me about running is that I can do it at all. Only a year before I started, I had struggled to do ten minutes of gentle yoga at home after getting out of the hospital. Running makes me feel healthy, like my body is whole and alive and though it isn’t perfect, it is still strong.
I recently ran the Minnie Mouse 10k in Disney World with my sister and brother-in-law. It was the farthest I’d ever run. In the month before the race, I dealt with an infected abscess, some colitis symptoms, a swollen ankle, and learning that I have developed antibodies to Entyvio. These symptoms derailed my training plan and I worried about whether I’d be able to finish the race, whether there would be bathrooms along the way, and whether I’d injure my ankle. Luckily, I was feeling better by race day. I got really nervous in the starting corrals and worried I’d have to jump out of line to run to the bathroom before the race began. But I didn’t, and I did finish the race (taking breaks to take photos with Disney characters definitely helped).
I know I may have another long road ahead of me as I switch to a new medication yet again. I know the nature of a chronic illness means I probably won’t always be able to run. But being able to run a 10k despite my illness meant so much to me, and as long as I can run, I know I will.