I turned 39 last October. That means that I have less than a dozen months to make my peace with 40. It’s just a number, right? However, given the chance to reflect, contemplate, and move forward purposefully…I feel like I should capitalize. I also have identified my mid-life crisis – which isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. I’ve spent the last four decades learning who I am, and finally (most of the time, anyway) feeling comfortable in my own skin. It took some momentous life events and major lifestyle changes in the last five years to really figure things out, and I’m sure I don’t *really* have anything figured out…but I have learned that I feel more in control if I let go of some of the control I seek.
My mid-life crisis is running. I’ve been trying to answer the question: “Why do I love to run?” articulately for quite some time. I dabbled in this craziness a few times earlier in my life. I have a foggy memory of running a 5k while I was in college (and walking. and gasping for air. and wondering why in the heck would I ever want to do such a thing again?!). I tried running every so often, with no real sense of commitment…but I do remember some great paths and backroads at Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge…where I ran a few times, and also where I met my husband (Thankfully, I guess I didn’t have commitment issues there…we’ve been married 15 years and counting). But that was it. I don’t think I ran a step between my senior year in college and when I actually decided I could, should, would, make a positive difference in my life a little more than five years ago.
It’s probably fair to say I started running out of a combination of rebellion and resolve. My Mom was always overweight. She set terrible examples for our family in terms of food choices and physical activity. I don’t remember her walking to the mailbox, much less working out. We had dessert with every meal, and “lunch” (which typically consisted of bars, cookies, or something along those lines) between meals. She developed Type II Diabetes (which perhaps couldn’t have been prevented, but certainly could have been better managed with some better nutrition and exercises choices on her part). She also had MS (of the worst kind…primary progressive). My teenage, college, and adult years and memories of time with my Mom are dominated by those in which it was difficult for her to get around. She developed congestive heart failure (resulting from MS) and renal failure (from diabetes). She passed away a couple weeks shy of her 68th birthday in 2007. I was 33, and too young to be burying my Mom. Don’t get me wrong…there are a LOT of very positive things about my Mom…but her eating and exercise habits didn’t make that list. After my Mom passed away, John and I spent ten amazing days in Alaska celebrating our 10th anniversary. That gave me time to think, soak in the beauty, and fester about the years I would never get to share with my Mom. Although I was sad and grieving, yet relieved for her suffering to come to an end (the last few years of her life were not that pretty or dignified), I was more than a little angry with her for leaving us too soon.
I resolved that to whatever extent I had control of my future…I was going to make choices that would set good examples for my family and give my body and my mind the best shot at living a long and healthy life. Up to that point in my life, I’d had two children, gained more weight than I’d wanted to during each pregnancy, and lost not quite as much as I’d wanted to after each. I was not huge, but I felt crummy and squishy and lazy and depressed…almost all the time. Something needed to be done. To that end, I joined Weight Watchers, and over about a 5 month period lost about 30 lbs. and built up good habits of smart food choices and regular exercise. I found an elliptical machine at a garage sale. I spent hours upon hours on that thing…I couldn’t run because I had bad knees (weak muscles and too much weight!) and no cardiorespiratory endurance! That was in the winter of 2007-2008…then I got pregnant with Hannah…and gained those 30 lbs. right back! Fortunately, my habits and metabolism stuck, and with the encouragement of my niece and nephew (they’ve factored pretty heavily in my running challenges and goals)…I decided I could train for a sprint triathlon in my hometown. Some people start by training for a 5k…but not me…1/4 mile swim (the water was 55 degrees!), 15 mile bike, 5k…sequentially…on the same day…without so much as a meal or a nap in between. I completed that one on Hannah’s 1/2 birthday with my niece Johanna. That was really my “first race” that put me on the path that I’ve been running and training on for the last 3-1/2 years, and the one that “hooked” me on training and racing.
I need a race to train for…to keep me accountable…to have a goal to accomplish. However, at that point, I hated running. I remember vividly gasping for breath and collapsing in the kitchen after a 3 mile training run…telling John that I would NEVER run more than the 3 stinkin’ miles I had to run for that dratted triathlon. I’ve learned by now that “never” is a word that I’ve had to eat more than once. In this case, I’m happy to do just that. It took me awhile, but I no longer hate running. Quite the contrary, actually…I hate going too long without a good run (about two days is as long as I can bear without getting too crabby). I also run more than 3 miles at a time (often in multiples of 3, actually…like the 6.2 miles I just did yesterday!), and I don’t come back gasping and collapsing and complaining anymore, either.
Why did I start running? Out of rebellion and resolve. Why do I keep running? The short answer is that it keeps me happy, healthy, and balanced. The long answer will have to be the topic of another post.