I often used to daydream about being a runner. A confident, strong runner who could run for miles and never lose her breath. I would close my eyes and imagine stepping outside to start my run, a gentle breeze blowing the loose strands of hair out of my eyes. I would picture myself shaking out my arms and legs before starting to run. The music playing through my headphones would seamlessly match the beat of my shoes on the pavement and my body would glide through the air touching the ground so briefly that it would almost feel as if I was flying. In my daydream, running would make me feel free.
I was inspired by this daydream and was determined to become a runner. Over twelve years ago, I set a goal to make it happen. It has been a long journey full of twists and turns, but it finally happened: last week I felt like a runner.
To be clear, I am not a natural-born runner. My very first 5K was when I was 21 and before that I hadn’t run farther than one mile in a stretch. I finished near the very bottom of the list and my friend and I, who ran together, were actually passed by someone in their 80s wearing a cotton pink tracksuit. The next 5K that I “ran,” I was literally passed by a speed walker. Speed walking is no joke, but I liked to imagine that my running was a tad bit faster than a person whose entire goal was to walk. That is when I decided the issue wasn’t me, it was definitely the shoes. So, I went to a legit running shoe store. A very kind lady had me try on close to a billion shoes, having me test each pair on the treadmill. Finally, she looked at my sweaty, exhausted face and said, “I’m not exactly sure what is the right shoe for you.” Which was definitely code for, “Are you sure you want to be a runner?” By this point, I, too, was questioning my running hobby. I already had a perfectly fine hobby, reading, and no well-meaning store clerk had ever given me pity eyes when I spent significantly too much time at the bookstore. But, I couldn’t shake the running daydream. I was determined.
After many different shoes and years of walking, running, and every speed in between,I finally set my ultimate goal: the year I turned 30, I would run a 10K. And, I did! It was amazing. I actually ran (at a slow pace) the entire thing. If someone had told me when I started my running hobby that I would eventually run a 10K, I would have laughed. One mile felt like a marathon to me, anything beyond that seemed impossible. But, time, patience, and persistence won. I was proud.
However, even on that day, I was not the runner I had daydreamed about. The one who could run effortlessly without losing her breath. The one who ran so fast she felt free. I was closer to her than I had been before, but I was still stuck in my head. And, even worse, stuck in a comparison trap of what I thought a runner should look like and what I imagined they felt like when they ran. In the last mile of my 10K, I made a deal with myself: if I didn’t stop running, I would never have to run again.
However, despite my deal, I continued my running journey, slowly building up more strength and stamina. I was feeling thankful to have the time to focus on something that I was doing just for me. Even when it didn’t feel great, I still felt great that I was prioritizing a small piece of time for myself and my health. I started to think that maybe feeling free was really just keeping that small piece of time for me. My confidence started to shift. When I wrote my 2019 intentions, I included a goal to run a half marathon! I couldn’t believe it. Then doubt flooded in. Who did I think I was? Running a half was for people who run! I was just a running wannabe. But, something in me was ready. I set out to make my goal a reality.
I set a schedule and didn’t miss a single training run through January and February. I felt myself building a strength I hadn’t expected as I developed a consistency with running (even during my previously lazier winter months). But then March hit and on March 6, 2019, I was admitted to the hospital for some significant, unexpected health issues. After a five day hospital stay, I was given strict movement restrictions and scheduled for surgery in April. After the surgery, there were increased restrictions and, to top it off, several complications which ultimately brought me to a second surgery before the end of 2019. During this time, I prioritized spending time with my family and reengaging my bookworm habit; running was clearly off the table. Although I knew I was going to be okay after the initial scare and first surgery, I still had a lot of healing to do, and I was not sure I would ever pick up the running habit again.
Then, two weeks ago, nearly a year after the beginning of my health misadventure, I got the all clear from my doctor. All my restrictions were lifted, I was free to run and exercise as I wanted. I had been walking and doing low impact exercises for months,but I had not run. I debated whether I even wanted to run again. I remembered what it felt like, how I wasn’t that good or fast, how I wasn’t the typical person you would see running down the street. I stared at my pile of books and thought maybe this is just where I am supposed to be. But, the persistent daydream wouldn’t leave, and after encouragement from my husband (in the form of a new pair of running shoes), I packed my bag and went to the indoor track.
It was there, when I least expected it, that my long-pursued daydream came true: I felt like a runner. It was not because I ran for miles and miles, it was only one. It was also not because it was beautiful, I did not fly. And, the only thing that matched the beat of my feet hitting the ground was my gasping breaths. It was nothing like I imagined. But, for the first time while running, I felt free. My body that had spent a year being broken, felt whole and strong. My movement that had spent a year restricted, came alive. My mind that had been full of comparison, doubt, and worry, soared as my speed picked up. I almost had to stop because laughter bubbled up and took my breath away. Here I was, over a decade from when I first started daydreaming about running, coming out of a year where I thought I might never run again, to this present moment where I realized I was already the runner I always wanted to be.
Don’t give up on a daydream. Run. Or do your thing. Allow yourself to feel free.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.