what running does.

I’ve written before about running as it relates to my weight loss journey, about the first time I stepped onto a treadmill and forced myself through a song. I’ve written about the gradual increase in my running competence, from four minutes on a treadmill to the completion of half-marathons. But, as I realized earlier this week as I was running around the recreation center track, I haven’t truly written out what running does for me.

Habitual runners can agree: Running is (mostly) free therapy. Prior to a run, I often find myself cranky, aimless, and bored; following one, I am usually spirited, motivated, and enthused. Running has helped me sort out more than a few knots, as it enables my mind to wander and reflect at length. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

Somewhere along the chronology of my life – maybe in the early, awkward middle school years – I stopped feeling ‘at home’ in my body. As I gained weight, ever self-conscious of the rising number on the scale, I began to feel a strange dissonance between the person I was and the person I saw in the mirror. Growing taller, broader, wider, I found myself feeling clumsy and a bit confused.

Beginning at the end of my high school tenure and moving through my undergraduate years, my weight loss journey enabled me to gain some authorship over the state of my body. I came to understand the transactional nature of exercise, of taking time to strengthen and work my body. Grad school marked a bit of a decline for this time, and then moving into the workforce provided me the opportunity to find this authorship again.

When I run today, I am often amazed at how quickly I am compelled to feel ‘at home’ in my body. Running requires that I pay attention to the mechanics of my feet, my ankles. That I notice the sturdiness of my legs, the muscular cut of my calves. That I hold my shoulders in a position both relaxed and upright, keep my stomach and arms engaged. On my best runs, sometimes under summer night skies and others through monotonous laps in the gym, I find myself rolling my head back and forth, spreading my arms like wings to accept the moment. Before and after each run, I stretch, feeling my muscles respond.

I am alive in this body, running reminds me again and again. This body is mine, and I must treat it well, appreciate its strengths, respect its limitations.

What running does for me, I have come to understand, is to bring me back in communion with the body I sometimes forget is my home. It connects me to myself; it breathes life into the vessel.

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