I am not much of an athlete. Naturally mediocre in both strength and speed, I don't do myself any favors with my lack of discipline and dislike of physical discomfort. But even with my limitations, I have found exercise to be both pleasurable and healing over the years, although in different phases of life, it has had different purposes.
As a child, I loved the idea of being fast. I read every Marguerite Henry book I could get my hands on and became obsessed with horses, a creature built for speed. I would run everywhere and imagine I was Florence Griffith Joyner (I actually think the cheesy music on that link perfectly describes the soundtrack in my 10 year-old brain as I would run). Schoolyard games always included running: various forms of tag, butt's up (which, ever the good Mormon girl, I dutifully referred to as "bum's up"), and imaginary games that always involved running--we were unicorns, we were riding horses, we were running from the bad guys, we were flying through the air. My mother loves to tell about how she would pick me up from school and I would be completely disheveled: clothes dirty, hair escaping my pony tail and plastered to my sweaty forehead.
It was in high school that I objectively learned that I was an above-average high school runner, and nothing more. There's nothing like a stop watch for forcing you to face reality. I was disappointed, but by that time my identity as a bookwormish nerd was set, so it wasn't as devastating as it might have been. I enjoyed running and winning races (which happened rarely once I transitioned from junior varsity to varsity), but it really was more about the world of track--the friends, the meets, and the pleasure that came from watching people who WERE really great. I came to love the sport, and I will still yell myself hoarse at a high school track meet.
In my twenties, I almost never ran. When I started college, hurdling and sprinting were no longer practical exercise options and I had long decided that I was uninterested in longer distances. I also had noted, in chagrin, the superficiality that strangely runs through certain subcultures of BYU, my undergraduate university, and in rebellion I stopped wearing make-up and refused to work out because it seemed like many women's motivation was solely to make themselves attractive enough to be considered dateable. As a result, while I always loved walking everywhere I could, the habit for regular exercise was completely gone for the better part of a decade.
Finally, at about 30, I started running because I could feel my body settling into middle age, and I wanted to fight it. Unfortunately, I never shed the pounds that I imagined would melt away as soon as I was into a running routine, but I did finally find what it felt like to be in shape and able to run several miles comfortably. What I learned was that while my body didn't physically change as much as I would have liked, as I grew stronger, I began to see my body as a tool, not an object. It felt wonderful to feel my calves contracting as they left the pavement, my arms pumping, my abdominal muscles tight in supporting my form. That being said, I am not fast: my limited ability as a high school athlete was in hurdles and jumping, and I tend to be even more mediocre in endurance than in power.
Now I run as a prescription for an ailing and troubled soul. I wake in the middle of the night and feel panic at what I have not yet achieved. I feel fear that it is too late to make something meaningful of my life--that I've botched it irreparably. I worry about things I've said, things I should have done but didn't, perceived or real offenses, professional inadequacy, and the fact that in worrying, I am missing valuable sleep and therefore less likely to accomplish all those things I feel I should. For whatever reason, I find that running can somewhat mitigate that paralyzing rushing in my brain. I don't know if it's the endorphins, the rhythmic pounding, the transfer of mental to physical pain, but it can bring momentary, sweet relief. So for now, when I don't want to go I remind myself that it is my prescription. Running: drug without side-effects?