I’ve been vocal in the past about my complicated relationship with exercise—heck, I wrote two books about it. Riley, the protagonist of my middle grade novel Good Enough, struggles with anorexia nervosa and an exercise addiction, and I talk about my own struggles with overexercise in my nonfiction book, You Are Enough.
Exercise is complicated for so many people in this “wellness culture,” as our society tends to equate losing weight and being fit with being “moral” and “good.” In reality, though, if we listen, our bodies will tell us how they want to move. Some people love dancing while others need group classes or team sports to get moving. Some love the thrill of mountain climbing while others enjoy long bike rides along country roads.
For me, running has been what I love—and what I hate(d). I was talking about this with a friend the other day—how my relationship with running has gone through stages, from something I had to do to cross-train when I was a high school swimmer to something that I truly enjoyed, that allowed me to get my mind off my problems and be out in nature.
Then came the disorder, when running morphed from an enjoyable activity to a drill sergeant ordering me around. I had to run a certain distance every day, and when I decided to bump up my mileage, I could never ever bump it back down again.
I had to get faster.
I had to run races.
I had to, I had to.
Over the years, and through a lot of hard mental work, I’ve regained my love of running. It’s gone through up and downs, though. I notice that when I run more than a certain amount, my brain starts to go a little bit haywire. I may feel a bit more pressure to be that “runner girl,” an identity I want no part of anymore.
I found myself in a similar place last week. The weather is creeping up to fall, if not with loud stomps then with hushed little tiptoes, a blast of cool air peeking around the corner before the arrival of another sweltering day.
But man, do those cool mornings feel good. Man, do they make me realize how fun running can be, how happy it makes me feel and how I really do enjoy feeling strong.
For a few days there, I even considered training for and running a half-marathon. “I’ve done them before,” I told myself. “I could totally do one again. It’d be fun. I’d feel accomplished.”
That was the word that nagged at me, the one that made me realize that I know myself enough now to hold up the big red stop sign that I’ve spent years constructing and learning how to hold up, no matter how heavy and awkward it may feel.
Because in the end, for me, running a race isn’t an accomplishment. (For many it is, and I never want to take away from that. But working towards that kind of goal isn’t good for me.) Racing and training focuses my mind on my body and on numbers, and that is never what I want for my life.
So I pulled back. I talked back to the message that society sends us that accomplishment always means doing and achieving and pushing yourself. Sometimes, we—I—need to realize that accomplishment also means holding tight to love. To peace. To contentment.
Right now, I love running. And I don’t want to warp that hard-won feeling with a race. Even if I could do it.
In the end, that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t need to do it.
We all don’t need to accomplish things, whether in sports or in life or, to bring this back around to my other passion, in writing.
Of course, it’s wonderful to work for something and achieve it. My release party for my debut novel, P.S. I Miss You, was one of the happiest days of my life. Every book I’ve written has made me feel good and made me reflect upon how hard I’ve worked along the way.
But I would still write if I never got another book published.
Because there’s joy there.
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life worried about doing and achieving and surpassing.
I want love.
Let’s run with that.