My Thank You Letter to Running
My long distance running story was born from desperation almost 15 years ago. I had two little ones, aged 5 and 2. I had a husband that was working hard to build a future for us from the ground up. I had a classroom of fun 5th graders that I enjoyed spending my time with everyday. And I had a stomach that didn’t work very well.
Night time was the worst; after bath time, during story time, amidst smooches and prayers, you could hear it; the dinner in my stomach, that at this point I was mostly pushing around on my plate rather than consuming, would CLUNK. That’s what the kids called it. “Mommy, your tummy’s clunking again.” My food just wasn’t digesting. It would sit there for hours. Ultimately, many months from these days and nights of suffering, it would get so bad that I would throw up the food that wasn’t digesting after it clunked until 3 or 4am, going nowhere. Tests would be done, tubes would be shoved down my nose into my belly for 24 hours to test my stress and acid levels, endoscopies and colonoscopies would be performed, surgeries for gallbladder and polyp removal would be done, medication for colitis would be administered. But not yet. At this time, with these two little ones to care for and a bank account that couldn’t accommodate medical bills, I just nodded my head while our kids anticipated each clunk and accompanying grimace on my face.
One night, after the kids had fallen asleep and The Crocodile Hunter and American Idol had long been turned off of the television, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling my stomach churn. I turned to my husband, who was restless and awake because he knew I was miserable. “I’ve got to do something to get this food to digest.” I sat up and threw my legs over the edge of the bed. “I think I’ll try to just go run down the street and see if exercising will help.” Jeff nodded, knowing that we were pretty much willing to try anything and this was a natural, healthy way that seemed reasonable. He was concerned that it was 10pm and dark outside, but he knew what needed to be done. I tied my running shoes—shoes that had been worn for some 5K races and jogs here and there over the years, but shoes that had never seen more than three miles at a time. Jeff moved to the chair by the window so he could watch me while I was out on the street.
I smiled weakly at him, opened and closed the door quietly, and ran back and forth on the little street where we were renting our duplex. Back and forth, back and forth. That first night, I ran for an hour. I didn’t want to stop. I immediately felt relief. While I was running, my stomach didn’t hurt, and I was afraid if I stopped, the pain would return. And of course, it did, once I finally came back into the house, panting and out of shape. But it wasn’t clunking as heavily as it was when I’d laced up. I was able to sleep that night without waking up to try and use the bathroom. I was able to sleep in several positions, rather than solely on my back without moving so as not to jostle my stomach. I was able to wake up the next morning a little more rested.
So I ran again the next night, and the next, after we put the kids to bed. Jeff sat by the window in the chair each night, watching every few minutes for me to pass by the window. I began to venture out further, adding miles on each week, taking our new mobile flip phone with me. I wasn’t willing to miss story time and prayers, but I did begin to go out before the kids were fast asleep, so that Jeff didn’t have to sit up worrying so late. Months went by, the miles piled up, I adjusted our dinners to be earlier so I could run without getting a side stitch, and I began to feel a little better. And something else happened. I was feeling this little tickle in the back of my head. I was feeling strong because of running. I was feeling powerful because of running. I was feeling extra joyful because of running. It was changing the way I was seeing things. I started noticing other people’s shoes, and wondering if they were runners; there were other people out there that liked to do this too! I began searching our very slow internet for running plans that I could follow so there would be a system. I’m a systems person, and I’m a to-do list person, so a running plan seemed inevitable. And I discovered there were hundreds of lists to be picked from, and thousands of other people running too! But then this other thing happened. Someone randomly asked me if I was training for any upcoming races. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “I’m as slow as a turtle”, I said. “Why would I sign up for something that had the word race in the title?” But there it was. My inner athlete had been born. The tickle began to itch like a rash.
I entered a local 5K and was so proud that I even finished, though it was the slowest time in the history of the race I’d bet, and I’d been up all night with an undigested steak keeping me company. But it was the first of many medals I’d eventually hang on my wall. Not right away, but once the kids got older and I’d gone through some healing medical intervention, I’d find myself hanging half marathon and marathon medals up there as well. I would eventually run half marathons with my teenage son and husband, I’d run 5K’s with my daughter, and I’d run marathons on my own.
Running saved my life. Literally. Because of my stomach problems, I began to run seriously. As my problems progressed to the “vomiting up undigested food” stage, I was unable to run. Because I wanted to run more (and also because my family convinced me it was the right thing to do), I finally went to the doctor for tests. Because of those tests, my gastrointestinal doctor gave me a colonoscopy at an age much younger than one would normally get a colonoscopy. Because of that procedure that I never would have otherwise had done, a mushroom polyp was found and removed. When I went in for my follow-up, the doctor told me that “if you hadn’t come in for a colonoscopy, we never would have found that polyp and it would have killed you by the time you were 35.” I sat there, staring at my young boy playing with his Bob the Builder toys on the doctor’s office floor, and said a quiet prayer of thanks.
Now, years later, I still love running. I mean, maybe not so much during an uphill climb during Mile 7 of a hilly half marathon, but I really do love running. It brings me joy and clarity and balance. It keeps my 44 year-old bones from feeling creaky and crumbly. Today, I am a miraculously colitis-free, wife to my healthy husband, and mom of a creative college student daughter and a hockey-playing high school son. I am a runner because I love to run, not because I have to run to feel better. I do still love to run at night, though now I don’t have to go alone because there aren’t babies in bed back at home. Now those babies run with me, or ride their bikes next to me, or they just stay home and Snapchat me while I’m running and my husband runs with me. My sister is my running partner and we are currently training for my fourth and her first marathon. I have wonderful friends that now run, and I constantly look forward to signing up for “races” with them. We run in them rather than race in them, but we don’t care! Regardless of speed or destination, I run for joy, not for pain. I am thankful for the relief that running gave me, and I am thankful for the life that running has given me.