Why I no longer call myself a runner

My bro and me. Thanksgiving Day, 2012.

At the beginning of 2012, I committed to running at least a 5K every month. I met that goal, even finishing a half marathon in April. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that by the end of the year, I had gained eight pounds and was suffering knee pain I had never experienced before.

Before I became a runner, I was a walker. I started a walking program while my boys and I were living with my brother and his wife the summer of 2001, waiting for our new house to be finished. Within a few months, I was slim and slender, toned and fit. I continued to walk after we moved into our new neighborhood in October, mapping out a three-mile route, eventually pumping one-pound weights as I went. (My seventeen year old says “pumping” and “one-pound weights” should not be used together, but I respectfully disagree). My weight stayed down and I looked and felt great.

I began to veer off course after I ended a long-term relationship and fell in love with a man I met on a cruise. The stress of our long-distance relationship, ensuing engagement, and attempt to merge our two families took its toll. A diagnosis of hypothyroidism combined with menopause came next. At some point I guess I kind of gave up. Weeks went by and I made excuses not to exercise. The pounds started creeping back on. The muscles disappeared. Dangling flesh started flapping in the breeze.

Then I started running. And I kept running. A mile or two a couple or three days a week, with longer training runs as I prepared for the half marathon. But I dreaded it every time. I hated it every minute. Which might explain why, five months into 2013 I found myself in the worst shape I have been in since my divorce in May 2001.

As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to start walking again. I am already back into my old routine, covering three miles in forty-five to fifty minutes while pumping two-pound weights. (The fastest I ever ran three miles was forty minutes, and I enjoy walking so much more.) Unconcerned with time and pace, I leave my iPhone with its Runkeeper app at home and appreciate the wonders that surrounds me: birds singing and butterflies flittering, a neighbor’s rose bushes, even the dandelions that have overgrown the yard of a home for sale. I get lost in my thoughts and am unaware of the passage of time. I plot story lines and compose melodies. At times it seems more like meditation than exercise. The dread and hate are gone. I actually look forward to walking every day. And I do mean every day. Unless there is a thunderstorm, of course.

Now I have given up my visions of running a full marathon or being the fastest runner in my age category in a shorter race. But that’s okay. Because I’m betting that over the ninety-nine days of summer the pounds will start melting off and the flab will start to disappear, even as I am engaging in an activity that feels nurturing rather than torturous, one that I will be able to continue into my old age.

It’s as if I’ve come home again.