Running, take 3

I’ve just survived my fourth week of school, and I’m coming up on two months in Atlanta. I won’t lie to you; this has been (and continues to be) a really hard transition for me. Some days I feel like everything is awesome. But other days, well, not so much. I’m taking four classes, which in humanities grad school is one more than what is normally considered full time. (This is a requirement in my program; I’m not that much of a masochist.) Translation: I read pretty much all the time. Except when I go to class. Or sleep. Sometimes I read while I eat. Every once in a while I spend time with new friends. The nice thing about all the reading is that it doesn’t leave me a lot of time to sit around and feel things about this difficult transition. But all things combined kind of make me feel like my life is out of control. Not a fan of that. But I’ve found something that helps.

Running.

I never, never thought I would say that. I’ve written before about running—two previous, abortive attempts. But this year things have come around. On New Year’s Day, I made a list of things I wanted to do in 2012. It was not a particularly ambitious list, or one that I felt obligated to see through, but one of the items on the list was to run a mile (without stopping). Set the bar pretty low there–just one mile, once. So, once the weather was nice enough, I started running, just a little at first, when I took Spur out for a walk. And then one day I ran a lot farther than I had before, just because I felt like it. It was probably about 3/4 of mile. I was sufficiently impressed with myself, and once I knew that I could run that far, I started doing it more often. And then I started going a little farther. Before long, I could make a full loop around the Reservoir—1.6 miles. And then I started adding on to that. I was running about 3 days a week and feeling pretty good about myself.

And then I moved to Georgia, and running got put on hold while I packed and then unpacked and then tried to settle into my house. Poor Spur was spending most of her time cooped up in the house or brief trips to the backyard. She got tired of it. She got irritating. And so I decided it was time for us to start running again.

And something kind of awesome happened: I started feeling better about things. For the little bit of time that I spend running, I listen to Harry Potter on audiobook, I pay attention to how my body is feeling and how I’m moving, where and how my feet hit the ground, I focus on steady breathing, and I feel in control and a little bit free of all of the rest of it. I tackle the humidity (this morning it was around 95% when I went out) like it’s nothing. I even like the challenge of going up and down the steep hills in my neighborhood. And then I come back and I feel better about taking on the things that I can’t control.

This is the second week that I’ve run everyday, and it’s quickly becoming an important ritual: run, stretch, pray, survive. I don’t go very far—just about a mile and half—and I don’t go very fast, although I made it today in under 17 minutes for the first time. But it’s not speed or distance that I need. Last week, in the afternoons, I was also spending 20 minutes on my rowing machine while I took a reading break and watched a sitcom on Netflix. I couldn’t do that this week for several reasons, although I missed it, but it had the same effect—something I could control, something that gave me a little space.

I know that Science (with a capital “S”) says that exercising releases endorphins, so part of the reason I like running and rowing is because of that, and also because it makes my body feel good. But I think the psychological benefits go beyond brain chemistry. And these days, when I need to take extra care of myself—mind, body and spirit—exercise has been a central component to my well-being. Something that reminds me that whatever else is going on in my life, I’m not out of control. At least, not always.

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