I used to be a runner.
At least, that's what I told myself. From the time I was 16 until I was around 22, I would drag myself through grueling runs: 6 miles on a trail with a friend, 5 miles in the Firecracker race on the 4th of July, a freezing cold 'Turkey Trot,' slush seeping into the mesh of my shoes and making my toes go numb. I'd run laps at the football field, adding in bleachers. I remember early morning, anxiety laden trips to the gym before school or class to 'get my workout in' so I could have extra calories for the day.
It all feels so futile and unimportant now. Usually, I hated every minute of running. Not only did I just not enjoy it, but it caused me a great deal of pain. After 2 foot surgeries and inconclusive trips to multiple specialists to diagnose my foot and ankle pain, I was once told by a doctor in Milwaukee that I would 'never be running any marathons.'
All The Wrong Reasons
Truthfully, I never ran because I 'liked' it. For years, I did it purely for aesthetics - believing that I really had to fight harder than anyone else I knew to maintain my average sized body. During that period of my life, running was all about the payoff and the objective. Did I burn enough calories? Did I go the distance I promised myself I would? Did I complete the run without walking? The success of my movement was largely based on factors that had nothing to do with how I felt. It was all about how I looked and what I did to prevent myself from looking any different.
After I made some serious changes in my life to heal my disordered relationship with food and exercise, I honestly thought I would never run again. I eventually went cold-turkey off of running. Not only did it make me suffer mentally, but I suffered physically. There were days I could hardly walk from the pain; and I needed my mobility for work, school, and living. I had to make some intentional changes to better the quality of my life, and I am so glad I did.
For the last 4-5 years, I've moved differently. My workouts consisted more of lifting, yoga, walking, and low-impact movements. My cardio has been more plyometric based or getting my heartrate up in ways that didn't involve running. After so much time of doing that, though, I started to feel robotic. Over the last few months, I've been struggling in a lot of ways (more on that later). My workouts started to feel a little rigid and meaningless. I was waking up at 5 AM religiously 3 times a week to work out, yet I was neither hating or loving what I was doing. I was simply...apathetic. There was a lack of passion or enthusiasm for movement in general. I really wanted to make a change and switch up my routine, but I'll admit the thought intimidated me a little.
I'd been eyeing this workout program that is half lifting and half running. You do a 25 to 30 minute resistance and weights video, then you follow it with a 20-25 minute interval run that is guided with audio. After serious deliberation about whether or not I wanted to re-approach running, I decided I wanted to give it a try. My husband agreed to try it with me, which would be a new way for us to spend some time together. Truthfully, I was nervous. Like, heart-pounding before we ran nervous. I honestly had NO IDEA how I would feel after not running for years. Would I be in serious pain? Would I burn out after literally 30 seconds and feel extremely defeated? Despite this, we committed to trying it.
A No Pressure, Keep it Fun Experiment
If we were going to start running, I wanted to approach it differently than I ever had. This version of myself is worlds different than the version of myself who used to run. Now, I am more intuitive. I listen to my body more. I no longer put pressure on myself to lose weight or move for aesthetic reasons. Jake and I decided to try this program in a no-pressure way where we would prioritize the way we were feeling and adjust the new routine as needed. There was no rigid schedule of workouts we were going to follow and no defined goals to meet. If we could fit it in, great. If we wanted to order pizza and watch Netflix, that was also great. This was going to be an experiment for us both.
Results: Better Than Expected
After getting over the initial intimidation of the running aspect and finally braving my first jog, I felt relieved. It was a relief to switch up my routine. It was a relief to try something new. It was a relief to approach running with no expectations for myself other than to 'see how it goes.' These specific runs in the program have been unique because each one is different, there are rest periods, and the time spent running varies in length from :30 to 2.5 minutes at a time. I'm not forcing myself to hit the pavement and immediately run 3 or 5 miles without stopping - a method that used to sabotage my success.
We've both maintained a good attitude about it (aside from the lighthearted groans about actually starting the workout), and we're enjoying the time together. It's been refreshing for us to switch up our routine as a couple and try something new together. We've had fun with the lifting workouts and encouraged each other through the running portions. Jake is a more natural runner, so I've had to fight to keep up at times, but he never puts any pressure on me to keep his pace. Our first few runs were outside, but now that it's freezing out we've transitioned to doing the weight portion at home and then driving to the gym quick for our runs - which is also another huge 'new' thing for me. I haven't worked out in a traditional gym setting in a long time!
Why It's Different Now
Not only have I finally, after many years, found shoes that properly support my feet through higher impact movements, but I've changed my mindset entirely since the last time of my life where I was running. Now:
I'm more aware of my body and my pain. When I feel something that is 'off' or doesn't feel normal, I stop. I walk, and I don't punish myself for it. My comfort levels take top priority in my movement.
There are no strict rules around the workouts. Neither of us are doing it to lose weight, we aren't changing our diets to accommodate the running, and we aren't favoring a 'no excuses' mindset. I can't even begin to tell you how freeing it is to approach something like this with no rules. We do it on our time, in our own way.
I am more in-tune with my thoughts surrounding the movement. When you force something, it's easy for your intuition to go out the window and be overshadowed by your commitment to a goal. Now, my internal signals tell me if I'm enjoying movement or if I'm not enjoying it. They tell me if I need a break or an extra rest day. They tell me when I don't want to run at all, and when rest is more important. Thanks to my intuitive eating/exercise journey, I can finally hear my own signals speaking to me again.
I don't know if running will become a normal part of our long-term routine, but I can say it's been an interesting way for me to examine my own self-growth over the last 4 years. Approaching running after believing I'd never do it again has not only challenged me to question my intentions around movement, but proved to me that intuitive movement is dynamic. It's possible to have feelings about different types of movement that change and evolve, and you truly do 'grow as you go.'
For now, I'm enjoying this change, and will use it as a foundation to tell myself that I am capable of trying new movement - all in my own time.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about running and intuitive movement - what do you do that really helps you embrace movement (especially running) in a positive way? Leave a comment or come to my Instagram DMs so we can chat about it.