11. The Sanctity of the Run

11. The Sanctity of the Run

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Sanctity of the Run

Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.
 ~George Sheehan

I ran competitively as a teenager. I was the daughter of a struggling single parent, and running was my escape from a broken home and the burden of never having enough money. Running was relatively cheap, and it took me places I would not have gone otherwise. I was even banking on a track scholarship to get me through college since my mom, then working as a minimum-wage clerk, clearly couldn’t afford my tuition.

Then, at the beginning of my senior year, I was in a terrible car accident. Before I knew it, I was stranded in a hospital bed with a shattered lumbar, a cracked pelvis, a punctured lung, and several broken ribs. Needless to say, the accident quelled my dreams.

But life moved on, as it always does. My body slowly healed, and I struggled to finish high school and carve out a new identity for myself and forge new hobbies. I eventually worked my way through college, got married, and began having a family, another deep aspiration of mine. Growing up for the most part alone, I yearned for a home full of the bustle of family life.

As a mother of five, my life has moved from the open trail into the kitchen in a race to get meals whipped up before children begin a hunger howl. When I want to go running, I have to sneak out of my house. It’s a rapid-fire affair of throwing on workout clothes (clean or otherwise), lacing up shoes as I’m going out the door, and darting off without anyone (except Dad) noticing I’m gone. The youngest of my brood gets miffed if he notices Mommy leaving without his approval or companionship.

I don’t marathon run. I don’t have a schedule or a ritual. For me, I usually look around the house and think, “Okay, everything’s under control here… It’s nice outside… I’m going running.” And I dash off. I’m not training for official races; I’m training for my life.

I try to run three or four times a week. Aside from the obvious health reasons, I run to keep sane. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I didn’t know love in a big package comes with a price tag: emotional and mental instability. There’s something grounding about the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement accompanied by the sound of my breathing that is close to music — close to meditation.

My house is a bustling den of undone chores. There’s always that load of laundry that begs to be done and a meatloaf that needs to be made. There’s always a diaper to change, a floor to mop, an argument to mediate, and a missing toy to find. And, if I still have time, there’s a bathroom that needs my attention.

The demands can be overwhelming at times. I love my family immensely, but I don’t love getting hit in the head with a phone by a baby who’s just learned to use his arm. I love my boys, but I tire of piles of smelly socks and scattered unmentionables. I don’t mind cleaning my house, but I do grow weary of toothpaste smeared lavishly on bathroom mirrors and unidentifiable sticky spots showing up on freshly-mopped kitchen floors.

So, when I’m feeling especially anxious and irritated, I take off. I run. Sometimes I run hard and fast, pumping my arms to push up hills as if to punish myself (or to escape a dog). Sometimes I jog slowly and luxuriously, enjoying the scent of blossoming peach trees and the feel of a spring breeze, or taking in the heavy wet scent of an approaching storm.

Sometimes when I run, I look up, enjoying puffy clouds, a glaring sun, or the ominous darkness of approaching storm clouds. Sometimes I look out at the horizon — at the mountains blanketed in a green that never goes away — and I am happily reminded of my diminutive existence. Sometimes I look down because of dangers lurking in the form of potholes, loose gravel, or stray rocks. Sometimes I delightedly notice lizards crossing my path or butterflies resting silently on oleander bushes. I see children riding their bikes, elderly couples walking their dogs, women in pairs wearing colorful track suits, walking and chatting. With all of these observations, I am reminded of the wonders of the world and the steady existence of life beyond whatever small calamity befalls mine.

When I get myself into a rhythm of striding and breathing, I begin to feel the invisible, heavy layers of stress shed. I leave them behind to eat my dust, and I am a lighter being, pushing on ahead. By the end of my run, I am wet with perspiration, my heart is beating rapidly, and I am feeling new and alive.

My life as a mother is like an endurance sport. My runs always remind me of what life is: always putting one foot in front of the other, even when I’m exhausted. It’s about running up the hill, however daunting, and congratulating myself for not stopping. Life, like running, is about getting up and pushing on ahead, even if I’ve tripped on a pothole. It’s about keeping the rhythm and setting a pace. It’s about minding my injuries and allowing myself time to heal, but not letting injuries get the best of me. Running is like life; it is a glorious, albeit sometimes painful, act of always moving forward.

When I finish my runs, I return home happily to the energy and bustle of my lovely family. My house seems warmer and friendlier. My children are chatting and playing, and I smile and hold them close. They tell me they missed me and wonder where I ran. I tell them I’ve missed them, as well.

I feel refreshed, grounded, and sane. I feel victorious. My mind is clear and my heart is happy. Everything is right with the world, and I’m ready to tackle that laundry pile and scrub that bathroom.

~Luci L. Creery

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