Running on Joy: a personal essay

I would be lying if I told you that I came up for air to type this in between bites of my carnitas burrito. Typing and eating a burrito at the same time has become a personal achievement given that I am the worst at multitasking.

I am particularly enjoying this burrito because I ran five miles this morning before work. And not to play the “I deserve this” card, but hell yeah, I definitely do.

I discovered that I couldn’t not eat four to five mini meals a day if I ran more than four miles in the morning. I have come to deeply love snacks (hummus with anything is my favorite) and cherish my Bulletproof coffee right after I finish my workout.

You could say I might run because I love food---that is undeniably true. But more importantly, I run because it has given me an edge in understanding my body.

Running has been the key to self-love since I was a freshman in high school, but let me explain.

This is not a trend for me, or a fad that I wanted to try because my friends did it too and said they felt great after. I did that with yoga . . . and I’m still trying too, but that damn tree pose gives me vertigo and I can’t keep my mind centered for more than two minutes. Not to hate on yoga, but I have too much energy in the mornings to meditate.

Running is my lifestyle. I am not a self-glorified, workout guru who has a killer Instagram of all the workouts she plans and everything she eats (although I am inspired daily by a bunch of rad women I follow on social media). Rather, running has given me the kind of lifestyle I always wanted for my body. I have only recently started to post things on my Instagram story about running, mostly because I am training for the SLO Marathon and like to see my progress.

But for me, running is personal.

Enter my unconfident, 13-year-old, tomboy-self who always played with the dudes during P.E. instead of making daisy chains. I had played softball most of my life and was more developed for my age at the time. I loved softball until some mean girl in the 7th grade called me fat and butch during P.E. when I was changing in the locker room. She said I played the “lesbian sport,” that my calves were too big and my butt stuck out from being a catcher. She said I’d better be careful in high school if I wanted to a boyfriend.

For the record, all of that sounds downright silly now. Some of my dearest friends are bisexual or lesbians, and freakin dominant whatever they put their mind too, and the way we talk about all of that has changed so much, and can you say girl-freakin-power?! I also couldn’t give a single woot about what somebody else thinks of my calves and butt (it took a while, but I learned to love those more muscly parts of myself), but can you imagine a 7th grader being told she didn’t look her part in the big middle school charade? That she wasn’t feminine enough?

Well, it scared the crap out of 13-year-old me.

I immediately became self conscious for the first time in my life. I had never known what it was like to worry about how I looked while playing a sport. I had never really cared. It only got worse my freshman year of high school when I made the softball team. All of the girls I played with looked like models when they got on the field, most of them with freshly done makeup in case a boy happened to be watching. I still didn’t wear makeup and had only recently begun to seriously shave my legs.

I had lost the passion for the sport shortly after I made the team, when my team wasn’t really a team, but one big group of drama mamas and beauty queens. I used to dread practices because my catching mask gave me horrible acne around my face and all of the other girls wore skin-tight pants, but mine were baggy. And remember when I said I was “more developed” in the 7th grade? Well, I that way, in that I didn’t grow much after that point and my boobs definitely skipped high school. Leave it to something that was supposed to be fun to only give me a sinking feeling in my stomach anytime I had to bat in front of a big crowd.

While this wore off after a few months and I got better at the sport, I realized my heart wasn’t really apart of what I was doing anymore. I could go to batting practice and not talk to anyone the whole time, except my coach. It wasn’t that I was antisocial to top everything off, I actually had a great group of friends outside of softball.

It was that I didn’t know what to talk to these girls about. I had never had sex, I had never been drunk, I had never had my hair highlighted. I had never stepped foot into a party. And would you believe me when I told you that more than half of these 15 and 16-year-olds had? I had no idea how to participate with them. It wasn’t a team, it was a clique that I did not belong in.

Stay with me, there is a light at the end of this self-conscious, high school hole.

And the light was Coach Ables.

I’d never exactly experienced team spirit until I met Coach Ables. If you ever played a sport at Carmel High, than you knew about Coach Ables. He’d probably whooped your ass in a preseason, calisthenic workout or made you run laps---around the entire mass of Carmel Unified School District. He was all business when it came to training. No drama, no makeup, no funny business.

I remember leaving softball practice one day, my heart heavy with idea of telling my parents I didn’t want to play anymore. I was sophomore then, and let me tell you, I have no idea how I had played that sport until then. It was probably my best friends, Joelle and Brianna. At the time, we’d endured those seasons together and made a pact to quit at the end of our sophomore softball season. There was nothing left for us to do, but go in search of something that made us happier. I think every teen deserves that in high school: finding their joy and what lights them up.  

For me, that was running. And it was Coach Ables who sat next to me, as I was waiting for my mom to pick up from school, and asked me to come to the first cross country practice of the fall. He said I had good form and could maybe make a decent addition to their small team.

So I did. I showed up to that first practice in my white New Balance sneakers with the green stripes, not knowing I would eventually get stress fractures from wearing those darned things. But I showed up and the rest was history.

They were the hardest practices in the whole world. Every mile left me with a deeper understanding of my limits, of what it meant to be fearless. There was depth, there was spirit, there was a team that loved each other no matter what they looked like. I didn’t have the typical “runner’s body.” I was (am) curvy. But the reason that never stopped me while I trained was because I loved it more than I had ever love a sport in my whole life.

And I was good.

I was the #2 runner on my team for most of my time at Carmel High. We ran in the rain. We ran before the sun came up. We ran for burritos. We ran to beat our times. But mostly, we ran for each other and ourselves.

It was a personal thing to beat your PR, but it was also team thing to beat your PR.

Running is more personal now because I remember often how I felt running next to those incredible women. Strong. And now when I run, mostly on my own, I feel that I am still flying off of that team spirit to keep getting better. I no longer worried about how I looked because it was just so dang fun. I even realized I wouldn’t have been able to achieve those times without the muscles that I used to be so self-conscious of. I am still running now because it genuinely brings me joy. I was running then because it also brought me joy.

That’s the key, I think. All social expectations and premises go to pieces when joy is involved. If all middle and high schoolers could grasp that, I’m sure life wouldn’t be as dramatic and self-involved at that age. But I am grateful for all of it, and I hope to always be able to run the miles like I do today with all the burritos, muscles and curviness included.