Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Run For Your Life

In the spring of 1999, I took a big journey. I left behind my amazing friends, my family, my safe and beautiful and idyllic college campus and I went to London. For five months I denied myself absolutely nothing. I knew how precious my time as a college kid, studying abroad, really was and I was intent on making the most of it. I saw beautiful life changing things. I experienced heartbreak. I made new friends. I saw priceless works of art, experienced the best musical theatre in the WORLD on a random weekday afternoon, and watched the sunrise over the Costa del Sol. My memories from those months could fill a very large journal.

I've always loved beer and enjoyed a nice dessert here or there, those five months? I drank the good, dark, smooth, amazing beers...daily. I had dessert...daily. I ate deep fat fried fish and chips with reckless abandon. And I tried everything someone told me to try, whether that was paella in Spain or nutella filled crepes in France. All good things must come to an end and at the end of five months, I had gained 25 pounds.

I came home and found none of my clothes fit. NONE.  I couldn't keep up with my nieces and nephews who were a cute and formidable brigade of toddlers. I could not take a flight of stairs without getting completely winded. I just felt, miserable. And not long after getting home I realized I could not afford a whole new wardrobe. I did not like how I felt. I did not feel comfortable in my new body and I truly just needed to lose the weight. I had watched members of my family struggle with weight for my entire life and I was determined not to start down that path. I was 21 and not about to resign myself to a life of obesity or struggle or pain.

And so, I researched. What exercise burned the most calories? What foods were the best to drop weight quickly and safely? For the first time in my life, I "dieted." And I learned some pretty important lessons. Moderation, patience, persistence, discipline, balance, reward.

Back in Kansas, I did not hit the pub every night on the way home. Probably 700-800 daily calories removed. I did not hit up the evil tempting Cadbury's machine in the tube. 200-300 calories removed. I ate almost no deep fried foods. Unknown calories removed. I replaced all those wonderful delicious splurges with low fat yogurt, reasonably portioned sandwiches and salads, fruit, vegetables, no seconds at dinner, oatmeal at breakfast.

Most importantly, however, I started running. I ran 3-5 times a week. I ran at 5am before my office job started at 8. And I detoxed, for months. I ran slow. I sweat like a you know what in church. I wore all the wrong clothes. I wore the wrong shoes and socks. I got blisters on my feet and chafing from my too large cotton t-shirts.  But I slowed the weight gain train down, brought it slowly to a creeping halt and then put it in reverse. It took me 5 months to gain 25 pounds. And 4 months to lose it. I had youth and energy and fierce determination on my side. But I lost that weight. And when my new friends saw me back at college that fall, every single one of them was amazed by my transformation. To me, I was just returning back to normal.  That said, the "new" normal was stronger, fiercer, more confident.

I learned more about myself and my ability to change the course of my own destiny in that summer than I have at any other time in my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity to lose weight the "right" way. I am so glad I experienced unhealthy weight gain and healthy weight loss. It has profoundly impacted me ever since.

Taking advice from a few of my college friends who were runners, real honest to goodness fast runners, I believed them that once you can run 3 miles you can run anything. They were right. It took me 60-90 days of strict 3-5 (and mostly 5) times a week running to get up to three miles. But once I got to that point? I ran all the way up to 14 miles. I even had the idea of a "marathon" in mind.

I returned to college that fall a runner. I was slow. I was still a bit overweight. I still had the wrong shoes and shorts and shirts (don't even get me started on sports bras). But a spark had been lit. And I knew in my heart, I was a runner. There was something very liberating in sweating out your stress, in grasping your own destiny, and in taking control of your body. There was something profoundly empowering in watching my body transform.  What I could not do one day, I was able to a week later.  I did not run a marthon that year. Or the next. Or the next. But I did in 2005. And since then I've run 16 more. And there is no question that running has saved my life, over and over and over. Running is pure and simple and requires little to no preparation, or equipment or plan. You just go.

This pregnancy and a brutally hot summer has revoked my running card. And I miss it dearly. I do not look forward to returning to pre-pregnancy level of fitness, as it will take me well over a year to get back there. But I am nervous and anxious like a little kid. I know it's coming. In December, I get to run again. And until then? I just think about it. I (literally) dream about it and daydream about it. And I get giddy when I imagine running another race.

I'm still not fast by runner's standards. I'm still not maximizing my potential. I still have a lot more to accomplish. A LOT more. But the lessons I learned 13 years ago as a very young woman play out every day in my life. And without that rapid and terrible chapter of weight gain, I might have never learned those lessons in such an abridged fashion. Moderation, patience, persistence, discipline, balance, reward.

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