‘What are you running from?’ My mother used to ask me this whenever I’d go jogging on weekend visits home from college. It had been easy enough for her to accept my habit in childhood—racing through the streets with friends as kids and sweating it out on track and field hockey teams in my later school years. Back then she figured my perennial thirst for sweat and activity was normal because it’s what lots us of kids did. Even the occasional 5k races for good causes and cures as an adult didn’t raise her eyebrows much. But running after that came as a curiosity to her. For all of my marathons, overnight relays, and the training that came with it—not to mention the simplicity of running for fun—she’d still quiz me, ‘What are you running from?’
The first time she asked I didn’t say much because I didn’t know how to respond. Then, the more I considered her question, the more it felt like maybe she’d seen something I’d missed. She is, after all, my mother and mothers know things we don’t. What was I running from?
Like lots of women freshly loosed in the world, I spent years feeling lost and uncertain about most things: how I’d support myself, what I’d do with my life, who I’d love, where I’d live, and whether I was good enough to manage any of it on my own. In all that time one of the only things I knew wouldn’t disappoint or desert me was running. Running was free. Running was my go-to when I felt confused, uncertain, lonely. Running created lasting bonds with friends I never knew outside of our time spent pounding it out on the roads and trails. Across the miles of years, running was a ritual of purification that seemed to sweat out the junk of my indecision, self-doubt, and fear. Time and again it brought me back to what felt like the best parts of myself.
These days I coach women trail runners and it’s always gratifying to see the changes that take place over a few weeks’ time. Watching runners go from doubt to determination while learning to trust their feet is a process that’s different for everyone, and every time it’s a privilege to witness.
I’m well into my forties now and I don’t run for the same reasons I once did. And even if I could have answered my mother’s question when she first asked me, my response would be a different one today. Today, I find myself having more fun, exploring my surroundings, and appreciating my power in whatever ways it shows up. For all that running gives to my life, I’ve never really thought of it as a means to escape anything. Instead, running is a clarifier that helps me see past the shadows and into my own shimmering light.
Running reminds me to keep moving forward, maintaining a pace that separates me from merely walking and, oftentimes, talking. Whether alone or in community, when I’m running I find myself more deeply connected to my own body, its rhythms, and to nature.
Running is a personal act of allowing that’s hard and dirty and beautiful too. When I’m running, I find myself, period.