In grade school, I loathed track and field day.
All the other kids loved to ditch their desks to show off how fast they could run, how high they could jump, or how far they could launch their tiny bodies across a sandpit. I, on the other hand, would have given anything to sit under the shade of a big maple tree reading Narnia.
To make matters worse I couldn’t just complete in shot-put, where my heavier-frame was more skilled. No, I had to participate in at least one track event. Year after year, I would stand at the start of the 100 metre dash wishing I could be someone else. Someone fast. Someone thin. Someone built for running.
Standing amongst my peers, I knew I could never be a runner. It became a part of my identity. I tucked it into my backpack, along with all the other baggage weighing me down, keeping my feet heavy.
After University, back in my hometown of St. Catharines in Ontario, I started dating a lacrosse player. He was incredibly fit, and wanted to run together. Eager to please, I agreed. To save my inner child from further ridicule, I decided to pre-train for our upcoming ‘couple’ run. It was awful. My pace was off, my shorts kept creeping their way up my sticky inner thighs, and my new sports bra wasn’t supporting anything.
I went home defeated. For a day.
My researched-focused mind searched for running techniques, breathing methods, and music based on bpm (aka beats-per-minute). I purchased new running gear. Mainly, capris which stayed glued in place, and earbuds that wouldn’t evacuate my ears at the first sign of sweat.
I made playlists. You know those songs that really get you going? I’m talking dancing-in-the-car, singing-till-your-throat-is-hoarse type of music. I made seven playlists of those songs. Seven.
Then I tried again.
This time things went better. It wasn’t fun. But it was better. I put all my focus in listening to the music to ignore my gasping breath. Soon I was jogging down neighbourhood streets, along sidewalks, and through the downtown core of St. Catharines. Running became a part of my routine. It was slowly creeping into my identity. My only fear became that my ipod battery would cut out (making it super hard to ignore all the ‘delightful’ cat-calls and hecklers).
As I travelled from place to place, running came with me. It’s an incredibly transportable activity. I ran in the downtown streets of Toronto, along the Rideau river in Ottawa, beside the Welland canal in Thorold. Running groups like those organized by The Running Room peaked my interest, but I returned time and time again to myself, turning up the music and tuning out the world. When I came to Cortes Island in 2015, I brought running with me: ipod tucked into my runners, beside my dog (and new running partner) in the backseat.
Running on Cortes Island is very different.
First, there is a significant lack of sidewalks. Second (to my extreme joy) there is also a serious lack of cat-calls. I started to discover an incredible trail network on the south end of the island. I made new playlists better suited for the coast, running loops which connected old growth forest to the beautiful waters of Desolation Sound.
Still, I didn’t love it. I figured I just wasn’t going to be that “type” of runner. You know, the one who just loves running. I dragged my feet a little, but that was good enough. Right?
My “ah ha!” moment came while listening to Marilyn Arsenault’s Presenter Evening at Hollyhock last season. The founder of Mindful Strides, Marilyn knows a thing or two about healthy running. She also knows a lot about bringing joy into your practice.
The key, as it turns out, is “up.”
Marilyn pointed out that so many of us run with the weight of gravity pouring down on us. Without realizing it, we are saying “down” with each step we take (yeah, that’s not just in running). We let our baggage keep our feet heavy. We make running a chore. We relish in being sore because we think it’s a sign of a “good” workout (spoiler-alert, it’s not).
After her presentation, I decided to shift the way I had been running. The next time I donned my runners I left the ipod at home. I tracked my posture, as Marilyn had shown us, and said the word “up” with each step forward. I figured I wouldn’t make it far. But I did. In fact, I went further. More importantly, I ran in tune with my body. Instead of ignoring my breath and turning up the music, I bounced along the trail saying “up” with every inhale. Sure, it felt a little silly. But then something happened…
Running doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t need to feel ostracizing. You don’t have to be thin. It doesn’t need to feel painful. It shouldn’t. Running is fun, especially when you do it with ease. Go ahead, break a sweat, but don’t break your spirit.
I know it’s a steady uphill climb to rewrite our childhood narratives. But that doesn’t mean you can’t climb with mindful ease. We’re all built for running, it’s in our DNA (you know to escape those saber-tooth tigers). So for goodness sake, stop saying “I’m not a runner,” and instead find joy in your stride.
How we run matters, and there are ways to do it with more ease and joy. Maybe all you need is one two-letter word. Join Marilyn Arsenault for Healthy Running with Mindful Strides this August 10-15.