I know you have never asked much of me in return, but I feel at times our relationship can be one-sided. After all, I have been told that this is the only abusive relationship worth having. Sometimes I struggle with this notion, so I decide to pack up and leave you, yet I always return. Some days I like that about myself, and other days I have regrets.
But, in so many ways, you have taught me things about myself that no one else has. I have learned about my body, about my mind, and about my soul.
Remember that time we climbed to the top of that mountain in Cyprus and we felt like gods? My heart racing, my breathing heavy, and with tense muscles, it was there that I understood for the first time what kind of pleasure my body was capable of achieving. Pushing myself to the brink just to say, ‘I did it!’ was an experience I will never forget. From that day forward, I looked at my legs, my core, and my mental state in a whole new light.
I was astonished.
What about that time I ran my first race? I was so nervous lacing up my shoes and pinning on my number. It was a half-marathon. While standing among crowds of people with shorter shorts, brighter shoes, and fancier watches than me, the knots in my stomach grew tighter and tighter until the gun finally blared. Together we felt free and reckless. I still have the medal from that race, and will always cherish the feeling of crossing the finish line.
I hold dear the times you were there for me, especially in the stressful times. Whenever I needed to get away from all of life’s problems, I called you. A couple of days a week you would meet me at lunch and we would pound the pavement, sometimes fast, and sometimes slow. I could unleash the contents of my heart while we were together, and I knew you always understood.
Then, one day, we didn’t meet. I had hoped you would understand. I was pleased when you helped me pick up where I had left off a few days later; a little slower and my heart a little heavier. In time, the bounce in my step returned, but having a partner like you during my darkest moments made all the difference.
We have seen some strange and beautiful sights together, too! I always smile when I think of the dog that ran with us for almost 20 miles during that ultra long run for charity. He looked so happy! Remember that time a person threw chili peppers at us from his car window? I’m still not entirely sure what to make of that incident, but it’s a fun story to tell at parties. Remember that old man who offered us water when we were pounding the pavement between two major cities? Remember when we ran to raise money for children with cancer?
My favorite moments we have shared, though, are the pre-dawn hours in the chilly air, before the rest of the world was awake. Or when the trees were sparse, a light covering of snow was on the ground, and all that can be heard were my footsteps. In the summers, when we headed out the door as the sun was setting, the pink, orange, and purple colors of the sky were incomparable. With you, I have experienced a beauty in this world that I never knew existed.
Yet, despite all of these good times, you have also betrayed me. The first time you got me angry was when I was training for my first marathon. One morning, I woke up to meet you but I couldn’t make it out the door. My foot hurt too badly. You never warned me that our relationship could also break me, and I was devastated. We separated for four weeks, and when we got back together I felt as though nothing was the same. I watched you make my other friends happy, but you did not seem to care about me. I felt different, and was worried our relationship was ending. It took almost three months for me to feel about you the way that I once did.
Then there was the time that you left me drained – mentally, emotionally, and physically. You robbed my body of necessary minerals for normal function. I had to start taking foul-tasting supplements because of you. How had I let you deplete me? I wasn’t sure our being together was worth the damage I had done to my health. Even my family and friends began to question why we were together all the time. But, like a drug, I couldn’t let you go.
So, Running, why am I writing you this letter?
As I have been reflecting on our past and contemplating my future, I realize all that you have given me.
You have made me healthier. That heart disease that runs in my family? I’m now at a lower risk. You encouraged me to fight through the initial pain, the shortness of breath, and the burning muscles by making me feel more alive than I ever have before. Sure, some days I hated you, but you never gave up on me.
You have made me stronger. I don’t just mean in the physical sense, either. You have put me on top of the world, but have also been the reason for my lowest lows. I have come to realize that life isn’t just about the good times, but about the uphill struggles, too. In fact, because of you I have learned one of the most important lessons about myself: I take the greatest pleasure in the moments I have earned.
You have awakened my soul in a way I have never dreamed possible. Morning runs, lunch runs, sunset runs, snow runs, beach runs, trail runs, long runs, and intervals have all shown me a beauty in this life I never knew existed. I wasn’t aware that hurting so badly could make me feel so unbreakable.
In short, thank you, Running. Through the good times, the bad times, the painful times, and the times of complete and utter exhaustion, you have never left my side. Yet you hurt me in the ways I needed to be hurt: whether to overcome a bout of hubris, or to remind me to take care of myself.
You, Running, have taught me that in life, things don’t always work out as planned. You have taught me that there’s more to life than just winning races, or finishing in the top seven. You have taught me that passions never die, and that stopping something does not necessarily make you a quitter. You have taught me that mind is a very powerful thing. You have given me hope when I most needed it and have shown me that many times, first you have to get knocked down to find motivation to get up again and eventually succeed. You, most importantly, have changed my life and truly shaped me into who I am today: confident, extremely motivated and aware that sometimes, perfection only exists as a projection of our dreams.
You have taught me that the most gratifying experiences come as a result of enduring the most painful trials. There are no finish lines in life, yet you have to strive to become the best at what you do. You, Running, have helped me discover who I am.