37. Running for My Life

37. Running for My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Running for My Life

It’s the fire in my eyes, and the flash of my teeth. The swing in my waist, and the joy in my feet. I’m a woman phenomenally.

~Maya Angelou

A plaque with the silhouette of a city skyline hangs proudly on a wall in my house. Six medals dangle from its hooks, each with a different size, shape, color, and meaning. The one in the middle, though, is my favorite — its thick red ribbon holds a pendant of a buffalo, with the words “Buffalo Half Marathon” and “FINISHER” embossed on it.

Every time the medal catches my eye, I smile and feel unstoppable.

My body and I have known each other for twenty-five years, but we just recently fell in love. Growing up, I was never much of an athlete. While I dabbled with sports and exercise, I had little natural talent and enjoyed junk food far too much.

My family kept sweets, snacks, and soda on hand at all times, and maintained a weekly tradition of indulging at the local pizzeria. As a result, I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. I oscillated back and forth between binging and starving, being sedentary and exercising on an empty stomach.

These habits caught up to me after graduating from college. I’d reached my heaviest weight and my lowest self-confidence. Entering graduate school, I was depressed and resigned to unhealthiness.

My mother had been diagnosed with diabetes several years prior, and each time I watched her test her blood sugar, my stomach grew queasy. Was I looking at my future? I knew something had to change, I just didn’t know how to do it. When I looked in the mirror, my stomach would seize at the sight of my thick waistline, thunderous thighs, and jiggly arms. It was like looking in the mirror at a repulsive stranger whom I had no intention of getting to know.

Learning to love yourself in a society that tells you what you are supposed to be is one of the hardest tasks women face, but it is also one of the most urgent jobs we have, especially as women of the next generation. Looking back at pictures from my teens and college years, I realize that I had never actually been overweight. Hating my body, however, had been a theme in my life from a very young age.

We were a community of women, and someone had to take the first steps.

During their adolescence, nearly every woman in my family struggled with an eating disorder, but no one talked about it. My mother and I eventually shared our stories, and as it turned out, they were hauntingly similar, as were my grandmother’s and my sister’s. I felt a sense of reassurance knowing that it wasn’t just me who struggled. We were a community of women, and someone had to take the first steps.

So, I did. Little by little, I started working out here and making a healthy choice there. When I was feeling exceptionally ambitious, I would lace up my sneakers and jog around the block. The next week, I’d jog a little farther, and the next, I’d run.

At first, a little voice in my head whined and told me I couldn’t do it. But the longer we ran together, the more we got to truly know one another.

I eventually learned that the little voice didn’t really believe I couldn’t do it; she was just afraid of failing and falling into old habits. Deep down, she wanted this as much as I did.

After a long talk with a close friend of ours, that little voice and I decided to tackle a seemingly insane task: running a half marathon. As we embarked on a training routine, she would chime in with her fits of self-doubt, and I would gently talk her off the ledge with chants of “Just a little bit farther!” or “Trust me, we can do this!”

Occasionally, she would call me that ugly three-letter “f” word, even though our waistline was shrinking and our legs were getting leaner and more muscular. I learned to silence her with — of all things — a cookie, because I discovered that depriving her of cravings only made her grow cranky and tiresome. The key was to supplement those treats with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and to pay close attention to how much I was consuming. Diet is crucial when running thirty-plus miles a week. To work in unison and to make the training program work, that little voice and I needed balance.

Those grueling miles and long weeks of training helped me understand the importance of listening to my body. When my mind told me to stop, it could usually be attributed to doubt, fear, and insecurity. When my body told me to stop, however, it acted as a warning signal against injury, undernourishment, and overexertion.

Before running, I ignored the whispers that came from my body, but once I started running regularly, I listened for them with the attentiveness of a mother awaiting her baby’s cry. Sometimes I would disregard them, knowing that my mind was trying to speak for my body, but other times, I would respect my body’s wishes and cut back on my mileage or eat a little extra.

I completed my training, and one warm day in May, I crossed the finish line in front of hundreds of spectators, alongside one of my dearest and most encouraging friends. When a happy stranger knighted me with my shiny buffalo, I was exhausted, but my mind was calmer than it had ever been before. After victory photos and post-race snacks, my friend looked at me and smiled.

“You look super athletic, by the way. You’ve lost weight.”

I returned his smile. Covered in layers of sweaty clothing, wearing my first medal, I realized how little those words meant. Together, my body, mind, and spirit stood united and strong; stronger than they had ever been before. To me, that was more beautiful than any compliment.

Now, whenever I feel my confidence waning, I look at my first medal, lace up my sneakers, and remind myself that I run this life.

~Jenna Schifferle

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