Back in 2004, when we were making weekly trips to Philadelphia, leaving our house in the cold and dark of early morning, I remember looking out the window of the car as we drove past the Delaware near Lambertville, and seeing the people running along the canal towpath. Running and running. I so wanted to run, just run away from the nightmare we were living in—something about the act of physically running seemed so cathartic.
But I hate running, and back then I had a 6 year old fighting brain tumors and a 2 year old who wanted Mommy extra since things were so disrupted in our home and a 9 year old who was imploding.
Running wasn’t going to happen.
(I marvel at moms of young kids who get out there and run. If I got out for a walk when my kids were young I counted the day a major win and started imagining Olympic Glory as a walker).
Still, some part of my brain understood that there was freedom in movement, in running along near a river.
In 2006, one of the lowest points of my daughter’s illness, my husband realized that he seriously had to lose weight and get in shape, so as soon as we got home from my daughter’s Make a Wish trip he started running.
Twelve years and countless half marathons, 5ks, and one full marathon later, Dave has not stopped running. He runs in rain and snow and gloom of night, he really should work for the postal service, nobody would ever miss their mail delivery if he took over.
While I use words galore to try and dig through the challenges of our life, Dave runs. And runs. And runs. For Dave, running equals zen. Always.
After cheering him on at a few races, and walking a few charity 5ks with the kids, I decided it was time. My G was off treatment. My 2 year old was in kindergarten. My 9 year old was now an adolescent (so I NEEDED TO RUN). My excuses were weak, but my desperate need to physically process the new moment of Life Off Treatment remained strong.
(Yes, off treatment should be awesome, but like Maria Von Trapp says in Sound of Music, “It could be so exciting, To be out in the world, To be free! My heart should be wildly rejoicing. Oh, what's the matter with me?”). Not seeing medical professionals all the time was super unsettling, especially since the tumors were no smaller than when we started treatment.
Anyway, I dug out a pair of sweatpants and some old sneakers, and snuck up to the high school ball fields behind my house—and I tentatively galumphed around the soggy field. I didn’t even tell Dave for weeks that I was trying to start running, I was SO SELF CONSCIOUS. After all, I was always in the slow group for gym class, and once wore a paper bag over my head in protest…after college I would eat chips while one of my roommates vigorously did Jane Fonda videos. Ms. Fitness I am not.
But—it felt good. Not the running, that felt horrible, but moving, breathing fresh air, hearing the birds…it was good.
And thus it began.
Eventually I got actual exercise clothes, and real running shoes, and I ventured onto a road. I got a Road ID (hello, so many landscape trucks on such skinny roads!) and a headband that would stay in and a little handheld water bottle thingie. After a few years I stopped always putting running in air quotes when I told people about my upcoming races.
Most of my running has been to fundraise for research for a cure, or to support friends who are sponsoring races to fundraise for research for a cure for NF or brain tumors or other smites. I still don’t love it. I need MAJOR motivation to get up and go. I only run slightly faster than global warming occurs. Officially, I run/walk--aka the Galloway Method (I love me a method).
I only signed up for my first half marathon, having never run more than 4 miles, because my G had an MRI that looked like we’d be starting chemo again. I was so angry I signed up for a race in defiance, like @#*&@^# you, NF! That actually was my training mantra (not kidding). A week before the race a follow up MRI showed the tumors had stabilized and we had a reprieve. That was awesome, but I still had to go run 13.1 miles!!
That 13.1 hurt. A lot. But crossing that finish line and NOT throwing up or collapsing was the most empowering thing I ever did. I beat my own doubts, insecurities, and memories of high school gym class. I DID THE THING. Not fast—but I did it. I got a medal and a t-shirt and EVERYTHING. I . Did. It.
And that kind of personal win IS a shimmering ZenFest.
So I did it four more times. And honestly, by the last time it didn’t hurt more than it should have.
As of the last time—2016, when our family ran with my dad for his 70th birthday-- I officially retired from half marathons. The training exacerbates my anxiety—thus undoing the zen of movement. But this past weekend I ran a 5k with my now almost 16 year old—the 2 year old who needed mom all those years ago. Neither of us had trained, she relied on youth and I relied on all the other exercise I do, and both of us relied on the promise of chocolate at the end of the 3.1 miles…and it was good. The threatened snow/rain held off, and I gave her my marshmallows while we waited for Dave to finish the 15k.
It was good.
For me, running isn’t a quick fix for zen like it is for my husband, but getting outside and moving, even to walk, to notice nature—that’s really the benefit of running for me. Running forces me into present moment awareness in a way few other things do. Races ARE zen for me because of the Camaraderie of the Slow – My People! Everyone chugs along. Everyone supports everyone else. THAT is zen.
Movement helped me. I know not everyone can run. When it’s cold out, I don’t run—but I have found that even being outside to meander with my snoofly dog helps with zen. And honestly, in the cold months I use different kinds of movement to help with zen (another post).
I hear that spring may FINALLY be coming to Jersey—and maybe I can head out to my favorite nature preserve on a Saturday morning and run/walk slowly through the flowering trees and around the many ponds. And after a run, I found the perfect zen chaser…
But that one I am saving for next post. ;)