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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Around two and a half years ago, I started running. I had never exercised a day in my life. It felt draining and boring, and I didn’t think I needed it. I hated to sweat. I didn’t like to exert myself. I wasn’t good at it. The list of excuses was lengthy. But then, after a series of endless viruses and illnesses passed around among my kids, and subsequently having to be trapped home with nagging, cranky children for days on end without a moment to myself to breathe, I felt like I just wanted to run away from everyone and everything. So, when my husband arrived home one night, I put on sneakers and did just that. I ran.

I didn’t actually run away, though. I figured I’d run around a block or two, close to my house, in case I’d get winded and become unable to make it home. I didn’t want to be too far and then hate myself for having to walk such a great distance to return, in my state of exhaustion. What I realized on that first trip out was that I couldn’t run more than a few seconds without feeling completely breathless and exhausted, and so I alternated between running and walking. And when I was finished, and arrived once again to my germ-infested home, I felt completely refreshed and capable of handling whatever else was sent my way. It was like I had suddenly acquired magic pills that sharply altered my mind-set. Super-powers. I was hooked.

When I run, I am free of all the things that weigh me down, the struggles at home, the burdens in my mind, the bad feelings that creep up. I shed who I am and become someone else—not a mother, or wife, or writer, but just a simple human under the great big sky. It’s humbling. It reframes my perspective. It gives me faith.

I downloaded the app Couch to 5K, and religiously practiced two to three times a week, in the mornings or evenings, for a few months. I built up to the point where I could run those five kilometers straight without stopping, and even competed (and placed third!) in a race. But the real joy always settles in after the first mile, when my thoughts start to wander, and a voice pops up in my head and tells me “You got this,” and manages to turn over every problem I’m dealing with, giving me strength to solve it. It is a voice of positivity, of hope, of escape. It is a time when I feel like I can fly, and just leave everything else behind, and when I’m done, when I return, I have a renewed sense of clarity. It’s that famed “runner’s high.”

Running morphed into other forms of exercise for a few years, and it fell to the side as I spearheaded Crossfit. But then, this past summer, I reminded myself how much I enjoyed being outdoors, with nothing but myself, the road and the sky above, and I put my running shoes back on. The voice of positivity returned, a familiar companion that I had missed, and didn’t realize I still needed.

In many ways, running feels like a parable for life, and I think sometimes that’s what propels me into a state of truly uplifted energy. It’s a road with many obstacles along the way, and we don’t always see them, nor do we always know which way to go. Sometimes we end up on an unknown road, and it can be exciting to watch the scenery unfold, but it can also be unnerving. It can be too shadowy and dark, or too glaringly bright. Sometimes, we get lost. Or hurt. But always, the one thing that remains constant is our true selves. I can be in any setting, in any location, but it’s still just me against the world. My own best friend, voice of reason, confidant, life coach, navigating the way, keeping up, always going. I control my speed, my route, my footsteps, my breath, even as everything else changes. What started as running away developed into running forward, running for health, for meaning, for presence.

And the running reminds me that just like I found the power and strength that I never knew existed, to keep my legs moving along through each cramp or moment of fatigue, I will do the same as I move through life. I can, and I will.

Step after step, breath after breath, as everything comes and goes, but it’s always me, the ground and the sky above.

By Sarah Abenaim

 Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer and essay coach living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected] or via her website, www.the-essayist.com.