My relationship with running used to revolve around my relationships with men.
When I was in my early 20s, I had a boyfriend who wanted me to run with him. I was not a runner. I had sports I loved—skiing and horseback riding, hiking and swimming—but I wasn’t into team sports or anything really physically grueling. Or maybe the sports I loved were physically grueling, but I didn’t see them that way because I loved them. But running just felt like pure misery, and I had no interest in making myself miserable.
He didn’t just want me to run with him–he wanted me to be the one pushing him. I thought he wanted to be dating someone much more athletic than I was at the time–maybe someone who was the top scorer in field hockey and the fastest freestyler on the swim team and ruled at gym volleyball. None of those things were me. I don’t hate people who were good at team sports, of course, but at the time I hated the person I thought he wanted me to be, because I felt so much pressure to be that. And when we went running I hated every step.
Later, I had a different boyfriend. We’d been dating a while when he suggested going on a run together. At the time I’d been going to the gym for about a year, taking yoga and pilates and spin and martial arts, trying to settle on a sport that would sustain me. I wanted to be more active. I wanted to keep my jean size. I told him I’d run with him, but not to pressure me—I’d probably be slow, and I didn’t like to be pushed. I said he should just go ahead of me and we’d meet up at the end.
It was beautiful, that run. We were on a beach, and the sky and the sea were just endless. I turned on my music and started running and breathing in time with the ocean waves and just lost myself. By the time I looked up—miles later—I’d left him far behind.
I left that boyfriend behind for real a few years later, but I kept running. In the several years since I started, I’ve run two half-marathons, one marathon, and countless 5K’s. Running is my moving meditation. It’s the place where I feel most powerful and most at peace. I love the toned, sculpted legs it gives me and the way I feel like I’m on springs just walking down the street. I love how my endurance makes other sports almost effortless—like rock climbing or horseback riding. I never get tired.
Last year, though, I got a headache. It lasted for four months continuously, and later became debilitating neck pain. It’s too much to get into here, but you can find the start of that series here. It was hell. I don’t know exactly what caused it still, but as I recover, it becomes more and more clear to me that running has something to do with it. These days, when my neck hurts, it’s usually because I went running the day before.
I know what I have to do. Stop running. Not forever—but for longer than I want to. I need to let my neck heal, do a lot of yoga, and build up my strength. I’m almost all the way better but still delicate, and yoga is what brought me through that particular health crisis. I know it’s what my body needs.
But letting go of running is so hard. While I was visiting my parents in Gettysburg, I had the most beautiful run. I went down a country road, discovered an old pre-Civil War graveyard, and daydreamed about novels I have in the works. I went past fields full of cows and old stone farmhouses and roads lined with daylilies. I wanted to go for hours.
I don’t want to break up with running. Stopping for a length of time brings up all my fears. That my endurance will die, and I won’t want to pick it back up again. That I’ll gain weight (yeah, I know it should all be about health, but for me it isn’t). I’ve let go of so many things in the past few months, mainly to heal my neck and devote myself to my novels. This was the one thing I wanted to hang onto.
But the stakes to this are high. The headache absolutely ruined my life. I would do anything to keep that from happening to me again. Now my body is asking me to give up running, and I hate it. But I have to do it.
This week, all I’ve done is yoga. So far so good on the neck. I miss running right down to my bones. But last night I took a two-hour walk to the Williamsburg Bridge and back. I listened to my running music and daydreamed about my plot. I didn’t get the high I get when I run—but for now, it will do.