Running isn’t a magical elixir

If you are a runner, you probably deal with a lot of things in life by running. A stressful day at work? Go for a run. A fight with your shmoopy? Bang out a tempo run. Kids on your last nerve? Fartleks!

This tends to be our answer to things, right? I know it’s usually mine, and it usually works. It gives us time away from whatever it is that is bugging us. If you run outside (please say you do), you get fresh, life-giving air. You also get your endorphins flowing, which just makes you feel gooooooood.

But running isn’t a cure-all. It just isn’t. Just because we love it and it’s good for us doesn’t mean it’s going to be what we need it to be every time.

The last year has been, for lack of a better word, crappy. It has just sucked. My grandfather fell ill and subsequently died last May. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of June and died on February 1. There have been other crappy events which I will not divulge here. All of this has led to a lot of stress, anxiety and sadness. I dealt with these emotions on many occasions by running, and it always helped.

Since Christmas, I haven’t really been running that much. My gym workouts have also become less frequent. I cut myself a lot of slack, convinced I could turn it all around and return to normal. As the scale crept up, I just kept telling myself, “It’s okay.” I couldn’t find motivation in the cold, snowy, windy weather we’ve been having. It just wasn’t a good time for running.

Some friends and I have plans to run the length of the Appalachian Trail in PA over 4 weekends this summer, so we decided we should get some long runs in. Last month we scheduled a 22 mile trail run in Michaux State Forest for this past Saturday. I looked forward to this for weeks. I knew that a long, hard trail run was going to go a long way to helping me. It was going to burn off some stress. It would certainly burn off some calories. It would rejuvenate me.

Right?

Wrong. We showed up to the run to find that the snow hadn’t melted like we had hoped. Despite pretty warm, lovely weather (it was in the low 50s when we finished), there was still a pretty constant blanket of 8-10″ of snow on the trails. It was heavy stuff that was hard to run through. Our hopes of 22 miles were quickly dashed, so we set a goal of 6 hours instead. After a half mile, I was thinking I’d be happy with 5 miles. Or 2. Or just making it out alive.

Looks pretty, right?
Looks pretty, right?

The first few miles were filled with laughter and self-deprecating comments. I think we all secretly thought the conditions were going to improve. We started finding dirt roads to take rather than trails, though they were still quite snow covered and very icy. The farther we went, the less jovial we became.

Taken very early in the run
Taken very early in the run

I started to lag behind the rest of the group since I am woefully out of shape. The more time I spent trying to catch up, the more frustrated I became. I was slow, cold, wet, bleeding (my shins are pretty trashed from the ice), and no less stressed than I was when we started. With just a few miles left, I found myself in the middle of the trail, hands on my knees, sobbing.

I realized right there, in the middle of that trail, that I had put too much stock in running. I had built it up so that it couldn’t do anything but fail me. I had convinced myself that this run was going to make me feel “better”. The run let me down. How dare you, running? You blasted trails, you failed me!

But running hadn’t failed me. It hadn’t let me down. (PA weather, though, that’s another story.) Running can do many things, but it can’t fix us. It can lift our spirits, but doesn’t restore them. It can relieve some stress, but doesn’t eliminate the source of our stress. It can burn some calories, but doesn’t keep your hand from putting more food in your pie-hole. (Nope, it just doesn’t.) And it doesn’t bring mommies back to life. Damn.

Now, I’m not going to break up with running just because of our little failure to communicate. I think we have an understanding now. There are no more unrealistic expectations. I just need to reacquaint myself with running and remind myself of what it can and can’t do for me.

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