6:35 AM. My alarm goes off. I ignore it for about two minutes and then roll groggily out of bed, pull on my leggings, socks, and five layers of sweatshirt material, and lace up my cotton-candy colored running shoes. They look FAR too pink and full of enthusiasm on this rainy morning, like they are ready to carry me twenty miles if only I’m willing to make it that far. Ugh. I grab my earbuds off the desk, floor, living room couch–wherever I threw them last–and head out the door. It’s February and it’s freezing cold. Help.

This is my usual routine, but most mornings it feels less like a glamorous shoot for a fitness catalogue and more like a never-ending chore. Why on EARTH am I outside doing this again? I am usually the definitive morning person, but early morning runs are another animal entirely. I’m not so sure about this today.

And then my feet hit the sidewalk. There is something about the friction between my shoes and the ground that dissolves every ounce of frustration, stress, and worry I didn’t realize I was harboring until this moment. Pounding out my thoughts on the pavement, completely vulnerable in the midst of rain, wind, and cold, I feel more alive than I have ever felt.

I am by no means a “natural-born” runner. I signed up for my first half marathon two years ago in an effort to force myself out of my comfort zone and get back into shape. It was a miserable experience at first, as I slowly trained my body to run one mile, then two, and so on. I wanted to be like those hippie ultra-marathon runners in magazines who just seemed so in touch with themselves, like they were finding their inner zen by running outrageous distances at a pace rivaling that of a cheetah. I was CONVINCED I would learn to love running if I kept at it enough. Yet every time I couldn’t breathe after the first two minutes, I wanted to quit.

Then something clicked. I don’t know at what point I discovered that running was healing, but before long it became something I couldn’t live without. It is the ultimate form of stress relief and also a “moving meditation” of sorts (to quote this article from On Being that inspired my post). I run because being outside in the elements, willing my tired muscles to move, is the most authentic form of prayer I have found.

I am training with several friends for my first full marathon this year, and I would be lying if I said the thought of surviving a 26-mile race didn’t terrify me. I’d also be lying if I pretended that I was one of those hippie, magazine-worthy ultra runners, always going on about how running brings me this deep inner peace. Sometimes (read: the majority of cold mornings in February) I’m just not feeling it. My running, as with my soul, is a work in progress. I am by no means an expert and by no means a champion. But I am deeply grateful for each step that reminds me of what it means to be spiritually awake and wholeheartedly alive.

 

Sarah