So, in case you had not noticed for some reason around here, I run.
The thing is, I have never NOT run. I have been doing team sports since I was 5. Soccer, track, field hockey, lacrosse, running down to the boathouse at 5 am for crew practice, I have always been running. When I graduated from college and ended my stint on teams and thus wasn't really compelled to go running, I felt a little lost for a month before I realized I needed to start again on my own. I missed the time outside, I missed the feeling of my legs beneath me, and, you know, I missed SLEEPING. It is pretty much a fact of my life that I cannot sleep unless I exercise. My body has no recollection of how to function without exercise; continuing to exercise means I feel better, sleep better, digest better, get sick less. My body knows how to work hard. It excels at it. No matter how long I have gone since the last time I've run, when I start again, my body is thrilled. My muscles, they know what to do. They fall into a groove. Everything in my body fits back together better, settles into itself, gets comfortable and happy again. Running is actually my resting state.
And then nothing is more comfortable for me to put on and wear than a sports bra, a t-shirt, and some running shorts. Stripping out of even jeans at the end of the day feels pleasurable when I switch to spandex, cotton, and whatever the fuck material it is that wicks.
There are periods of time where I haven't run. Like when I've been abroad - I swam my way through Morocco in a gym pool, while I spent all of India being sick, so there was no exercise then. And domestically I've gotten really depressed before, or really busy, or the sky has dropped a fuckload of snow on wherever I am, and so the running has been curtailed for a period. I always pick it up again, after I fight through the dark times in my head or the fucking snow drifts out my front door (last winter in D.C.? Jesus. We couldn't get out our back door until mid-March). And running keeps the depression and anxiety at bay.
But as someone who suffers from body dysmorphic disorder, and disassociative disorder after being raped, and struggles with self-harm, there's another reason I run. And it's because it's the only way I can make peace with my body.
There is something about thinking about my body as a machine that allows me to take care of it. If I think of it as functional, we get along just fine. Running helps me do this. It helps me relate to my body in a way that is not (culturally) loaded. I am present in my body throughout the day in a way I can't be otherwise - are my muscles tight? How's the damaged nerve line in my foot? How are my knees feeling? I have very practical interactions with my body, about what it needs, what it wants, what would make it feel best. I beat myself up less about the food I put in my mouth, because of course I need to feed a machine to keep it working. I see eating and food as a means towards an end, instead of a way to punish myself. There is no morality in eating anymore, just purpose.
I stop hating my body, because I need it to do things. And I am always so pleased with what it can do. It's hard to hate your body after a glorious long run. And when I have a terrible run, I actually know it's not my body, because running is something my body knows like breathing, so I turn to my diet, the amount of sleep I am getting; I go over the ways I may not be taking the best care of myself in my head, and look for ways I can give myself what I need. Besides, I have done sports long enough to know: sometimes you just have a bad run. And it doesn't mean anything. Those days are ok. I am already looking forward to my next run, because I know it will be better.
I learned how to run and work hard and push myself before I had any of the language of body hatred or disgust or trauma. I learned the language of strength and sore muscles and aching joints and hard breathing and going just a little bit longer and a little bit faster before I ever heard the words of the patriarchal beauty standard, performative femininity, or rape. I have the hardest time making the messages of those damaging later demons shut up when I am not running. Because I can't replace them with anything. But once I am outside, once the ground is flying past beneath me, I never remember how fat I think I am or how I loathe to look in a mirror. I am just a girl, running. I am fluent in that.
I know that I am very lucky. I am able-bodied. And I can tell you, truly, I am thankful every single time I finish a run. I check in with my body and everything is fine and I give thanks. It is a privilege I can run like I do. And it is a privilege that I can find a connection with my body like this. The half-marathon was great, but it wasn't really about the race, and it wasn't really about breaking two hours, although that was the little wish I'd had for myself in the back of my head. It was all about feeling proud of what I'd done, proud of my body, glad to be in it. It was so new and novel to feel that way, I was tripping and shiny off it for the rest of the weekend.
We all have our demons, but running helps me quiet mine. It replaces their haranguing with the language I learned to speak first with myself, of effort, purpose, function, and care. It's the truce I can call on the war against myself. Tomorrow morning is my first run again since the race, and I can't wait. It doesn't matter whether it's a good run, or a long run, or a fast run, it doesn't matter how sore I am still or how creaky I feel after the race. It'll just be me in my body being present and settled, and so I know it will be wonderful.