When I was in 8th grade, we had to run a timed mile.
It was 90 degrees outside, and I had never run before in my life. I got four laps into the 16-lap mile when the feeling of physical nausea and mental panic descended.
As the vomit was rising in my throat, the voices in my head were screaming at me—saying that if I stopped, I was a failure. I forced myself to finish the mile, behind the majority of my class, and then I threw up. In that moment, I decided that I wasn’t a good enough runner to run.
I would do yoga, zumba, hiking, kick-boxing, weight training or pilates, but not running. Never running. I felt I wasn’t “allowed” to run, unless I was certain that I could do it fast enough and well enough. I was jealous of my friends who were runners.
And then one day, I was in another city and didn’t have access to a gym, a mountain or exercise classes, but I wanted the endorphins of physical activity. I begrudgingly borrowed sneakers and set out on a run around the city.
I ran through the shopping district and through quaint little neighborhoods. I ran by the water as the sun was setting. I stepped over sleeping dogs who were tied to light posts by their owners in nearby restaurants. I dodged teenagers skateboarding down the sidewalk. I began smiling at everyone I passed—I felt part of their world for a brief moment. I began to feel more a part of the city and involved in my surroundings.
I loved it so much that I didn’t even realize what pace I ran at. I realized that I’m allowed to run, even if I’m terrible at it. That I don’t have to prove anything by running. That I can run for the hell of it. That I was a runner simply because I ran.
Now, I run half-marathons. Runner-me really likes running and doesn’t compare my running to anyone else’s. Runner-me sometimes still feels that rising sensation of nausea when I run, but runner-me allows myself to stop and doesn’t make stopping mean anything about how strong or determined I am.
Runner-me doesn’t use running to prove anything to anyone, but to be grateful for my body’s ability to move through the world. Runner-me never uses running as self-punishment, but as a loving practice to expand my awareness of my surroundings. Runner-me sometimes runs slower than I think I should, but doesn’t pay mind to judgements about what running should be like. Runner-me stays connected to the feelings in my body as I run rather than trying to conquer them.
Runner-me still doesn’t run very fast. Most of my 8th grade class would still outrun runner-me. So while I haven’t yet achieved an 8-minute mile, I have learned to honor my body, release comparison and self-judgement and accept wherever I’m at.
I’ve realized that if I limit myself to only doing what I’m good at, I seriously restrict my potential for joy and exploration. When we give ourselves permission to do even the things we suck at, we open ourselves to a world of new experiences.
Author: Brandilyn Tebo
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina