I hated running when I was younger. Like, hated. Spinach, mayonnaise, naps, cleaning my room, and running. Oddly enough, all things I love now. (Ok, I could be better about cleaning my room.)
Running seems to be a pretty polarizing activity. There aren't very many people who are just "meh", take it or leave it, about running. You either like it or you don't. You're a runner or you aren't.
I didn't identify as a runner until my late twenties, and it was sort of a revelation. This was the one type of exercise that I actively avoided in my youth (seriously - I used to get my doctor to write me notes to get me out of having to run the annual state-mandated mile). In the midst of the breakdown of an abusive long-term relationship I turned to exercise as an escape and, lo and behold, there was running.
I could run and be completely in my own world for a little while. I could run and not argue. I could run and listen to my own music. I could run and clock my accomplishments, revel in that next mile that was a little bit faster, push myself a little bit further. Going for a run meant I wasn't in the house for an hour or so, and that meant an escape from the tension and walking-on-eggshells and shouting and violence.
Running was freedom, literally and figuratively.
Soon I started running with my best friend and found myself panting through therapy sessions no money could buy. I began running with a run club at a local brewery and found the fun in communal exercise. I ran early in the morning and discovered that a whole world exists before the morning commute. I ran in the evening and discovered the joy in a slow Southern sunset.
I was running for me, not to escape what was bad but to find what was good.
I'm not a dedicated runner these days, at least not as dedicated as I used to be. My running comes in fits and spurts, one mile one week and five the next. Four miles in a day and then I conveniently "forget" to run for a week and a half. I'm happy now, I'm more confident in myself and who I am. I'm not looking to exercise as an escape.
Running for me has evolved, its now many things. Its recognizing that my body is aging, and that if I pace myself at a decent 9:00 minute mile I get all the benefit with none of the sore knees. Its showing respect for my health and a commitment to continued physical activity. Its a way for me to understand the many places I travel to - an early morning run in a new city is worth a dozen guided tours.
But mostly, now, running is a way for me to reclaim myself.
I no longer run to escape what was or is bad. I conquered my demons, I made it through, I survived. I now run purely for myself, for my own benefit, and looking back on nearly a decade of darkness, I see that every mile I clock is a small miracle.
Find your running. Find your escape. Embrace and nurture it and hopefully one day you will find yourself on the other side, and your escape will have become a past time, or better yet, a passion.
When in doubt, run.
(Speaking of which, I will be running in a 10k [~6 miles] race/walk this November in Central Park to benefit one of my favorite charities, Save the Elephants. You can join me by signing up here. Let's run together!)