I’ve been out running every other day (minus yesterday – details to follow) since Ray took off for Iowa about two weeks ago. This is a habit of mine that had fallen away since the first of the year for a variety of reasons. I’d started working again. I’d moved home. I’d met Ray. It’s taken some time, and some effort has been put back into it off and on, but the habit that I once had seemed to be elusive to me. It just never felt right. I was doing it for the wrong reasons, maybe, or I felt like I had to, rather than want to. In any case, these past two weeks of running every other day have started to show, again, on my body. In a constant state of flux, it’s clear to me that my body will never remain one shape or size for very long.
I started this running habit when I was nineteen and in college. I was running away from my old self. It was before I came to grips with the fact that I was a gay man, and I didn’t know why I was hating on myself so hard. I ran about twenty five miles a week, doing a five-mile loop in Dover, NH (one of my favorite runs still), and found myself gaining some sort of control over how I presented myself. It was, though, a bit of a knife-edge to be on for me, because it was also the time when I was being the worst with regards to eating. My depression/self-loathing had turned my mind on my body, and I was using running along with caloric restriction and expulsion to pare away the old me. Still, the running gave me a release from what was an ever-present grip of anxiety. I managed to shave away lots and lots of my body, and in the end, though I got down to my smallest ever (155 lbs.), I learned that I could have control over my self, and that running made me feel good about things.
I picked it back up in England, where I ran my first 10k race ever. I went from a mostly-stagnant couch potato of a new teacher, worked up and worried over everything about my job, to a person who used running to put things in perspective and to get out of my own damn way. It was good to do with my coworker Chris, too, who inspired me to give it a go, and really shape up a bit. Then, the running was a way of managing stress, and keeping me on an even keel.
I returned to running again, off and on, through my time with Nathaniel. We had tried running as a couple, but the competitive streaks in us both proved to be too much. Towards the end of things with him, though, I had turned to running as a form of escape. I could shut out the bad and focus on my footfalls and the energy flowing through my body. I could take a break from my constant worry and overthinking and just run. Just put one foot in front of the other for an extended period of time.
I took up running once more when I was living in Portland, ME, after Nathaniel and I ended things. At that point, I was feeling really rejected. I felt like a broken man with little to no worth. I had absolutely nothing but my health and a pair of sneakers. It seemed that running, and the endorphins it brought me, were just what I needed to avoid the despair that seemed to be all over the rest of my life. I was also up to my throat in school work, and running proved to be a great way for me to sort out the words I intended to put on the page. It was a way for me to break away from the laptop and just exist with my thoughts over time. I also learned that movement and thinking went hand in hand for me. This was something that was never taught at Goddard, but when I mentioned this phenomenon to others of my group, many agreed with me. Running, or even just taking a walk or a hike, seemed to clear the air, and shut off the forever-screaming critic that lived in us all.
When I relocated to Denver, it took some time to adjust to the altitude and oxygen at a mile in the sky, but I eventually returned to running once more. There, my life was in quite a tailspin. I was living quite fast, seeking and searching for a direction and path to follow. I had a job, but it wasn’t fulfilling. I had some friends, but I was almost always a wet blanket to their easy, care-free way of living. I was too intense, too emotional, too much at times to be around. I turned to running as a way of unburdening myself from my life and, again, just escaping into the wild for a while. Along with hiking, the running in Denver was a soul-saver for me. It gave me space to think and be. It gave me release. It gave me focus.
After moving to Portland, and having the relationship I moved here for fall apart, I once again turned to running. I was in a desperate situation, living by my wits alone. Running, again, proved to be the only thing I felt I could do with some sort of accuracy, and which would give me the space I needed in my head to stop chewing over things that were out of my control. I was a long time finding work here, and living in a less-than-ideal situation in a house that was no longer my home. I ran and ran and ran to prove to myself that I had value. I used the tracking apps to share my progress because I needed the validation I’d get from those who followed along. Honestly, as trite as it sounds, those little cheers in my ears were just the thing I needed to balance off the rejection and disappointment that crippled me during that time in my life. Running saved me, again.
I’ve returned to it now, and it seems like it’s becoming another habit I can stick with. I’m with Ray, who is an avid supporter of my health, in all ways. He knows I’m trying to finally kick my smoking habit (yes, I’m still smoking, but it’s really, really close to being over). He knows I’ve got these Fit by Forty plans for myself. It was the other night – the night I ended up skipping my morning run – where this all kind of sank in and came home. I found myself an anxious, emotional weirdo who needed some coddling and reassurance. Any confidence I thought I had seemed to have drained away in the light of the full moon. I had slipped into an anxious corner of my mind, and turned it on him in a way that was simply not okay. He, of course, handled it like a champion, inviting me over to share some wine and a chat with him and his friend Steven while the night crept into early morning. We eventually fell asleep at 3a, and I didn’t end up running that morning, but I wished I had.
Today, I made up for that skipped run. I rolled out of bed and slipped into my sneakers once again. After a cup and a half of coffee, I just set off. I haven’t been tracking or sharing these recent runs, either. I’ve stopped berating myself when I slow up to a walk – instead, I’m calling it interval training – and I’m not pushing myself for more miles, more distance, more, more, more. Instead, I’m just running until I’m done. Whenever and wherever that happens. I do have a general idea of a route in my head, but when I set off this morning, that was subject to change at every corner, which proved to be just what I needed. I caught myself in the reflection of a plate glass window, and saw something that is only evident to me when I’m out running or being active. After straightening my slouch, standing fully erect, and taking deep, meaningful breaths, I could feel a certain power inside me. It was a mix of adrenaline and endorphin. It was confidence. It is confidence.
Running, all along, has taught me so many things. It’s offered me escape, comfort, pleasure, control, and now a sense of worth. I feel good about putting my body through these paces, and I feel like instead of running away from something, I’m running towards something better. Running has been there for me when I’ve needed it, and I’ve finally started paying attention to my body when it’s craving a bit of pavement and movement. When I feel the anxiety growing, when I feel the darkness, when I am not happy about the skin I’m in, that’s when I need to get out and get moving the most. I need to just get over myself and get out there. I am a strong, capable, sexy, confident man, when I allow myself to be, and can put down the anxiety and fear for a while. Running has taught me this.