I’ve turned to running in all phases of my life, starting in my college days. The benefits of running are boundless.
Running is like an old boyfriend. He was my first and my last love all in one. He accepted me just as I was no matter how I looked or how much I weighed. I first fell in love with running after my first year in college. To help me take off the “Freshman 15,” running was an easy physical activity to help me achieve my health goals. Since it was free, it was also the perfect weight loss solution for a student on a budget.
Running is a stress reliever. Running not only helped me lose weight but also helped me release stress. From studying for exams, managing the student union, and worrying about how to pay for the next semester, I always felt under pressure. It was as if I held my breath until I went for that long run, far away from the familiar sights and sounds of student life. Once I took that first step of the run, I could finally exhale. And, boy, did I. The sound of releasing my breath was like the sound of an old bike tire slowly leaking air. Running helped me feel calm, relaxed, and accomplished once I was done.
Running is a peacemaker. I always ran alone. It was the only time I had with my own thoughts and dreams. Running gave me permission to be myself and to do something just for myself. I’d lace up my Nike’s and hit the roads that took me away from West Campus, where I lived throughout my career at the University of Connecticut. I fell in love with the rhythm of my own feet beating the pavement, which led me to a residential neighborhood. There, I fell in love with the natural beauty that dotted my journey with trees painted in autumnal colors of gold and ruby. This neighborhood was a completely different world from the one I knew, where students went in and out of dorms all day and night from trips to the library, lab, club meetings, field house, student union, pizza parlors, or bars. This escape into another world always put me at peace.
Running makes me feel more in control of my life and more prepared for what it has in store for me. In college, sometimes I’d run the rolling hills that meandered through the dairy farm located on campus. If the weather was good, I’d get up early enough to see the morning dew glitter on the fields in the early sun. I’d witness the fog lift like a bedsheet, blowing in the breeze as it dried on a clothesline. I also felt like I was the first person awake in the world, as I watched the campus gradually come to life. On my way back to my dorm, I enjoyed feeling one step ahead of everybody as I watched students slowly stream out of their dorms, rubbing the morning from their eyes as they headed to class. It was a taste of freedom and innocence I’ll never forget.
These memories feel like a lifetime ago, as my body doesn’t move quite as easily as it did 25 years ago. While I've just recently returned to running after months of rehabbing my latest injury, I don't run nearly as much as I used to back in my glory days. These days, I have to mentally psych myself up before I even lace up. My body has been in the shop for repairs so many times since my warranty expired that I'm lucky to even get it to start some days. Now, I look for the most cushion I can find when buying sneakers even before I add my custom-made orthotics. Now, the “Freshman 15” is a far cry from the amount of weight that now sits like an old tractor tire under my rib cage. And, now I feel like an old lady when I think, “If only I knew then what I know now.”
If only then I knew how the stress of getting a good grade on my journalism assignment or a passing grade in statistics would feel like a light breeze compared to the gusts of wind I’d face when I got older. Since graduating from college, I’ve run straight into the eyes of many storms in my life - from heartaches and job losses to deaths of loved ones. But, running gave me the courage to face my fears when I could have run away. Running gave me legs strong enough to withstand any hurdle that stood in my path.
Running is a gift-giver. If I hadn’t run so much in my past, I don’t know how I would’ve weathered all the storms in my life. It has given me the ability to escape from my worries, release stress, solve problems, move past my fears, heal from a broken heart, lose weight, enjoy the weather, commune with nature, quiet the noise, find peace, and appreciate the beauty all around and within me. But, of all the gifts running has given me over the years, the gift of being myself is the greatest of all. Running showed me how to treat myself with love, kindness, and compassion. It showed me how to accept myself just as I am throughout life's crazy rides and even as I grew, changed, and slowly transformed into the woman I’ve always wanted to become.
This is why the benefits of running are boundless for me. Running helped shape the person I am today in mind, body, and spirit. And, now, like running, I am boundless.
Whatever you do with your life, my Pineapple, be boundless.