It started as a weight loss obsession; my utterly unhealthy have-to-get-skinny response to my sister dropping major weight after having two babies. I’d always felt inferior and ugly. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had what’s now called “body dysmorphic disorder” – that awesome head condition where what you see in the mirror is totally unreal, but which motivates you to do whatever it takes to see what you really want to see (which will never, ever happen, because the problem isn’t what you’re looking at, but the eyes with which you’re looking).
But, thanks to my hyper-competitive nature, her weight loss rocketed me to new levels of self-loathing. I felt fat. I felt disgusting. And so when I began running, it was from a place of self-hate. I ran to burn calories. I ran to see how many calories I could burn while consuming as few as possible. I’d placed myself on a 600-calorie-per-day diet – and was terrified of maxing my daily calorie budget – while running daily to burn 500 at minimum.
I was full-on anorexic.
Don’t worry, though. It didn’t stay that way. I got professional help for the eating and dysmorphic disorders. I got married. And I kept running because – wonder of wonders – I started to feel better. Physically and emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
About two years in, my competitive self was recharged when that same sister, along with another friend, ran some half marathons and invited me to run one too. I thought they were insane. Thirteen point one miles?! Is that even possible for a normal human!? But I, of course, accepted. And I finished. And I kept running races…of short and long distances, faster and farther each time.
It was more than meeting a challenge, though. In running distances, I’d found this thing I could do that not only made me feel good about myself, but served as a healthy obsession with a built-in accountability system. I couldn’t be anorexic anymore. I couldn’t not eat. And I couldn’t look in the mirror and hate what I saw anymore…because what I saw carried me through thirteen miles of running. I learned to appreciate and revere this body God gave me which can run 13.1 miles. And make no mistake about it: Not everyone can. Using our bodies, whether in running or yoga or simply carrying our kids or groceries, isn’t a universal “given.” I’ve learned this body must never be something I flippantly take for granted.
Along the way, I’ve faced down a hundred other “impossibles.” That same friend whose racing originally challenged me to run my first half ran her fastest in 1:48. When I saw that, my jaw dropped and I literally gasped. That is incredible! An 8:30 mile for THIRTEEN MILES! That’s…that’s…I’ll never be able to do that! Some people are built for speed…I’m not among them.
While other friends were training for marathons – one was even running 50 mile trail races (Her response to my incredulity: “You can do anything you set your mind to!” Pffft. Whatever.) – I was busy convincing myself I’d never be able to run that far. Some people are built for distance…I’m not among them.
But even as I named and shamed the impossible, the wheels in my head were spinning. Could I do that? Could I ever run a half marathon under 1:50:00? Could I ever run an ultra-marathon? I honestly didn’t know the answer, but I wanted to find out.
Yesterday, two months after “placing” for the first time in any race, five months after my first 50k ultra-marathon, four years after my first race of any kind, and nine years after deciding to change my life, I ran my fourth half marathon in 1:45:42 — three minutes FASTER than my friend’s personal best, which I was certain just three years ago I could never, ever match, much less beat; nine minutes faster than my own personal record, and this, after spraining my ankle at mile 3.5 and running nearly ten miles of that race on a bum foot. Had you told me four years ago that this fast half marathon would be my short-and-easy run over weekend eight of training for a fifty mile race, I would have had you committed.But here we are.
And here’s what I can tell you: Given time, training, and a simple change in attitude, the “impossible” can easily become the “daily.” Nine years ago, running a 10k was crazy. Four years ago, running a fast half marathon was impossible. As recently as three years ago, the idea of being physically able to run 13 miles any given day of the week was grounds for institutionalization. Running has become the proof, for me, that nothing is impossible.
More than that, though, running is how I found myself. It’s not about racing, or conquering untold distances, or setting personal records, though all of those are fun.
Running has become a spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical endeavor. It is how I meet and commune with God on a basic, gutteral level. In the silence of 25 miles of trails, I hear and see Him (and no, it’s not because I’m hallucinating). It’s where my most powerful bursts of creative inspiration happen. It’s where I’m allowed and empowered to break down if I need to; where I can stop for ten minutes and cry my heart out; it’s where I pound the anger out of my body and bury it in the ground with each step I take. It’s where and when and how the clutter, fog, and webs in my head and heart are cleared out, so I’m able to become, again, unmarked canvas in the Painter’s hands.
Running takes me to the “secret places storing hidden treasures and riches, where I know He is the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons me by name.” (Is. 45:3)
Running is me facing the impossible and challenging it. It’s my body digging into deep stores of endurance and carrying me farther than I ever though it could go. It’s my heart and mind digging into deeper stores of persistence which pick me up and carry me when my body thinks it’s too tired to keep running.
And when those stores are all empty, it’s where God meets me. It’s where I find strength appearing “from nowhere” to propel me forward to the finish line.
It’s me – by God’s grace, mercy, and strength, and using His gift of a body that can and was even made to conquer the unconquerable – “running with endurance the race marked out” for me, as Christ ran and won His race.
These days, it’s about even more. It’s about recognizing, during every single mile of every single run, that because I can run while others can’t, I must run for them. Others who, for various reasons and due to various disabilities, will likely never be able to cover the distances I cover on foot. They will accomplish other impossible feats, and in so doing inspire me to go farther and faster every chance I get. And we will be for each other a daily offering: “Because I have legs, because I have lungs, because I have arms and a body and this gift at my disposal, I will be your legs, and your lungs and your body.”
So I run.
For Kannon, a one year old boy with Down syndrome, because he can’t.
I run not to escape my issues, but to face them, name them, and either beat them or learn to love them.
And that’s why I want you to run.
Whether it’s a literal half marathon (or, for some of you, one mile on your feet) or an emotional/spiritual ultra-marathon, the only thing stopping you is unbelief and fear. We not only can conquer the unconquerable; we were made to.
So….Go. Choose your distance. Hone this beautiful gift of the body God has given you. Find your stride.
You’ll find you’re capable of impossible things. You’ll find yourself running for others who can’t, simply because you can. You’ll find you. You’ll find God. And seeing Him – and yourself in Him, the way you were meant to be seen, simultaneously as weak and as strong as you’ll ever be – you’ll find yourself chasing Him down with every last breath in your bones.
You’ll find yourself showing others what it means to run your race with perseverance.
**If you’d like to run – or walk or lift or move your body – for someone who can’t, give me a shout, or join the facebook group I Run For and “like” our page I Run For. We’ll match you up with someone who’s been waiting for a champion like you.**