When I stepped into those jeans—a size 38 waist—I was horrified that they fit. The other times my then partner tried to hand them down to me they were too big. Now I was shocked into action. I had to do something, but there was just one itsy-bitsy problem. Too self-conscious about my own body, the odds of me joining a gym were a million to one. I never had a six-pack or anything close to it. I did everything to avoid changing in public locker rooms. Take my shirt off? Pfft. But I had to lose weight, so I did the only thing that seemed ‘doable’: I started running.
From Sloth to Runner
It was 2008, and I was living in Ottawa when I went for my first run. It was the dead of winter, and during those initial runs there was a lot more walking happening than running. But I kept at it, slowly building my endurance.
A few months into running, a friend encouraged me to join her for a 10k race on Canada Day. I blew her off initially. Yes, I was running, but not with the goal of racing. I wasn’t even tracking my distances. And I was even more skeptical of her suggestion that if I kept running I’d catch the ‘Running Bug.’ That made me laugh out loud. Because all my life I’d told myself I wasn’t athletic or sporty. Not only had I quit almost every other sport I’d tried, I used to constantly put myself down by telling people I’d scare them away if I took off my shirt.
My friend threw out a dare that got under my skin. Why couldn’t I run a 10k race? In the short time I’d been running, I wasn’t expecting to win. But I could prove to myself what I was capable of. So, I registered for the race. By the time race day rolled around, my goal was simple: cross the finish line without collapsing. Something happened during the race I hadn’t expected. I experienced the runner’s high and, to my surprise, finished with a time of 52:50. Meeting up afterwards, my friend casually suggested that we should sign up for the Army Race half-marathon taking place in September. I knew that wouldn’t give me much time to train, but I still hadn’t come down off the runner’s high and signed up for the Army Race as soon as I got home. I had caught the ‘Running Bug.’
A Lone Wolf
Basketball. Baseball. Curling. Karate. Those were some of the sports I’d tried—or had been signed up for by my parents—but they never stuck. I also played in a couple of bowling leagues into university but eventually lost interest in that, too. Why, then, did running stick?
All my life, I’ve been shy and not one to seek attention. When out to dinner with a group of people, I’m the quiet one listening. I’d rather wait months for a movie to come out on a streaming service than go to the cinema. It’s now more appealing (since the pandemic) to order online and eat in the comfort and solitude of my own home than dine in a restaurant. Do you see the pattern? I’m not just an introvert. I’m a loner.
That’s why running stuck. It doesn’t require other people. At any time of the day (3:00 am, 11:00 am, 6:00 pm), in any weather (snow, rain, a blistering heatwave), and wherever I’ve found myself over the years (London, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Winnipeg, Dublin) all I had to do was put on my shoes and run.
Running Changed My Life
Beyond the weight loss, running helped me to see what’s possible in life. It taught me to not limit myself or to accept the limitations others try to place on me. Taking care of myself physically also improved my mental and spiritual health. I became committed to, in every way I can, living my best life. That doesn’t mean that life is always easy, but when I need to think, to see a way through the fog, I run.
Yes, running changed my life by offering me freedom from a world with which I often feel at odds. At times, it lets me empty my head of all thoughts—go blank—and slip away. Other times, it forces me to focus on my breath, my stride, and how my feet land. Running pushes me beyond myself, reveals—sometimes in the most ugly of ways—what I’m capable of.
In a world in which I’m still trying to find my way and my place, running gives me the courage to keep moving forward one step at a time.