3 things I learned from running

I had this one pair of shoes that I had bought in 2012 for a trip to Norway. They were sports shoes, but not even decent walking shoes. But I thought, ‘What’s the harm? I’m probably going to be out of breath after 15 minutes, bored, sweaty, and I’ll never do this again’. I closed the door and embraced the chilliness of the morning, one Sunday in March. And I started running.

I had no experience in running. Or very little. I went for a run a couple of times one year before, but because I never worked out in general, I was indeed out of breath after a few minutes, feeling dizzy and convinced that this just wasn’t for me. To give you a bit of context, I was the last one to be picked when we made teams at school (traumatic memory).

So, in July 2019, after a difficult year and most probably because I realized that at 30, you can’t keep the same food habits as you did in your twenties without noticing the impact on your body and your health, I took a 2-month subscription to a gym closeby. I tried out Zumba, Bodyshape, yoga, pilates… and immediately felt the change. I didn’t necessarily lose weight or gain muscle, but I felt… happy. My mind was clearer, and I could get rid of the stress in ten squats or on a Christina Aguilera choreography.

I needed to let my thoughts flow and to do that, I needed to run. I felt like Forrest Gump.

And then, Corona hit us. The cultural center where I was taking drawing lessons closed, my gym closed, I couldn’t write anything anymore. I was living alone, far from my family. I needed a way to escape, to find serenity in a period of uncertainty, I needed to let my thoughts flow and to do that, I needed to run. I felt like Forrest Gump. I put on the only sport-ish shoes I had, I opened the door, and I ran.

Credits: Oscar Soderlund on Unsplash

DON’T OVER-DO IT

I think you already got a hint when I told you about my shoes: I wasn’t prepared. In so many ways. The workouts I did at the gym had improved my heart condition in a spectacular way: I was immediately able to run 30 minutes without taking a break. There were no signs of dizziness or breathing issues whatsoever as I reached home. I stretched, drank water, and shared my accomplishment with my relatives. I was ready for a second round.

After a week, I purchased proper running shoes. A good thing, because the problems that followed a few days later could have been worsened if I had kept my old shoes. Every day, I pushed it a bit further, pleasantly surprised of my capacities. Within two weeks, I was running 10 kilometers without breaks, in 1 hour 20. Two days later, I was limping. For almost three weeks. Even going to the supermarket took me what it seemed like ages. Honestly, I pitied myself a bit. I went too far, too fast. Now that I think about it, it just feels like I ignored the first lesson of Running 101: listen to your body.

Credits: Emma Simpson on Unsplash

GET RID OF THE HEADPHONES

Luckily, my heel cord healed, and I was soon able to enjoy running again, but this time, at a more reasonable pace. Something that I did from the beginning was to never bring headphones with me. I would have loved to listen to music or podcasts, but running soon turned out to be a meditative experience for me. First, I wanted to hear my breath. And second, I wanted to hear the sounds of nature.

I have recently read a book about shinrin-yoku, the Japanese art of ‘forest bathing’. This book, plus the COVID-19 situation, made me want to focus on the only thing we had left (for those who were lucky enough to live in the Netherlands, where it was still possible to exercise outdoors if you were alone): nature. The only thing we can enjoy for free, but that we, too often, take for granted. While I was running, I let myself be mesmerized by the sounds of birds, the scent of pine trees, or the soft jumps of a baby rabbit nearby. No added music needed.

ENJOY YOUR DAILY DOSE OF ENDORPHINS

And then, things happened. I had to look for a new apartment and a new job. It was a lot to handle. Running became a routine, a therapy. With every breath I was taking, every move I was making (wait, that’s a song), with every drop of sweat rolling down my forehead, I was still able to get rid of my overwhelming thoughts, of the anxiety – I was even feeling ecstatic. I found myself beaming while I was in the middle of the forest, I was saying ‘hello’ to foreigners just because they were walking a cute dog (which is always a good enough reason to say hi to people), I was able to deal with those issues better. Thank you, endorphins.

I still run several times a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes. I never thought I’d ever say this, but I hope that when it is possible again, I can join a running race. Maybe because I still need to prove myself I can do it. Or maybe, like Forrest said, simply because ‘I just felt like running‘.

Main photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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