Friday evening I went for a run. According to my watch, It was my first outdoor run since June 2. But I’m getting ahead of myself-let’s rewind.
I always liked running, but sophomore year of college I decided I was going to do a half marathon. So I did, and then I did 8 more over the next few years. I really, really enjoyed it. Soon my sister started doing them, then my mom and dad, then my roommates. I loved having that connection with others, feeling strong, and challenging myself. I found that running 3x a week was my sweet spot. Any more than that, and I burned out and/or got injured.
I really did enjoy running, but I was terrified of taking time off- even when I was injured. I was afraid I would lose any fitness I had gained in training, and I would slow down or not be able to run as far. I’m sure some of it was a fear that if I stopped, I would gain weight, but it was really more about the actual running.
Even when I wasn’t training, I kept running 3x a week most of the time until very recently. I still enjoyed it, but I think that part of me felt like I “had” to, just because that’s what I always did. What if I ran less? Would I still be a “runner”? I felt like I should be be able to do the same speed workouts week to week. Part of it was habit, and part of it was being competitive with myself and wanting to be able to keep up any progress I had made. I felt stressed about skipping workouts or not exercising “enough,” and I’ve made a lot of progress over the past year.
I realized my mindset had shifted for the better when I just skipped the Tar Heel 10 Miler after getting engaged. In the past, I would have been distraught over missing a race I had trained for. Over last year in particular, I’ve felt more peaceful about exercise. I did more of what I wanted to do instead of what I felt I “should” do, and I discussed some of that in this post. But this summer I realized that I was still hanging onto some black and white thinking about it. Here are some examples of the lingering “diet mentality” I still had around exercising.
-I felt like if I didn’t run X miles or lift weights for X minutes, it didn’t “count.”
-I thought if I walked at all during my run, it wasn’t a “real run.”
-If I went a week or so without running, I worried I wouldn’t be able to do it when I tried again.
-My exercise log was making me feel bad. During training, it’s very helpful for tracking mileage and seeing progress. However, I realized it was making me feel inadequate when I didn’t have a race on the calendar. If I hadn’t done “structured” exercise that day. If I just took my dog for a walk, or if I did nothing at all, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I felt like simple activities I enjoyed didn’t “count” as exercise that I could write down. So when I ran out of pages this summer I didn’t order another one.
Coming home this summer has been really good for me. I think if I was still in my apartment, I would have felt pressure to keep running 3x a week, even if it didn’t sound good. I have a trail right outside my door and a treadmill at my apartment gym I really like. See below-it has the perfect spot for my personal fan. Best $10 I ever spent.
But home is different. I have to drive about 20 minutes to get to a running route. Each day I wake up around 6:15 and enjoy a cup of coffee with my parents. I didn’t want to give that up, or wake up earlier to drive and run by myself. I was adjusting to my real people work schedule, versus my usual flexible school schedule, and didn’t want to go after work. So I didn’t. Plus, it’s way too hot for me and my parents’ treadmill drives me nuts. Running on that thing made me mad, and I don’t like feeling that way during exercise!
So I started asking myself, “What movement, if any, do I want to do today?” And running has not been the answer. A couple of days, I did a mile or so of walk/run because it sounded good. I didn’t feel pressure to write it down, or even think about if it “counted” or not. That’s what I wanted to do, and it was enough. I didn’t replace the running with another type of cardio, which I know I would have done in the past. This summer I’ve enjoyed doing yoga, circuit workouts, walking, or nothing at all.
There were a couple of times that I looked in the mirror and wondered “Have I gained weight? Should I work out more?” It can be hard to do less in this culture that is always telling us to do MORE. It can be hard for me to fight my urge to be competitive with myself and work through feelings that I’m not doing enough. But I’ve learned to sit with discomfort and try to not let those negative thoughts impact my actions. And let me tell you, asking myself what I want to do and actually meaning it has been so freeing.
I’ve come to realize that running doesn’t have to be my identity. I can be whatever I want to be on any given day! I don’t have to always do the same things, or stick to silly rules I’ve internalized for myself. Some days running will sound good, and other times sitting on the couch watching Netflix will. Some mornings I might want to go to the gym, and others I might not want to give up quiet time with a cup of coffee. I’m no better or worse if I run 4 days a week or zero. I feel like I knew that somewhere inside, but I’ve finally started believing and living it.
I enjoyed my run on Friday, and I definitely felt it the next day! But that’s okay. I don’t always have to be in the same running or fitness shape. Maybe a more structured exercise routine or specific workout be appealing to me another time. Next month, maybe I’ll want to run more. Maybe not. Running and exercising often is not a problem in and of itself, and neither is having a schedule or structure. The problem wasn’t that I was running 3 days a week, it was that I felt like I had to do that much or else I was failing. Maybe a structured workout schedule and training for a specific goal feels good to you right now. Go you! I always think that intentions behind actions and the way you feel about them is more important than the action itself, if that makes sense.
The number one thing I’ve learned over the past year or so is self compassion. I’m learning to be more kind to myself. It’s funny to look back and remember these same thoughts at the beginning of my intuitive eating journey. For example, I learned to do (eat) what feels good to me and ditch the guilt. It has taken me a while longer to get there with exercise, and that’s okay. I’ll never have it all figured out, and it’s not always easy, but for right now it feels great to have broken through some of that black and white thinking.