The season of Fall has different meanings to many people. For some, it means putting out Halloween decorations on September 1 and maybe grabbing a Pumpkin Spice flavored drink or a scented candle for some people.
For me, it is getting the urge to start running.
My guess for why this is an annual tradition probably stems from growing up in a family of runners. For us, fall days were for Saturday morning 5Ks and cross country meets in small towns across central Kansas.
My mother ran cross country in high school along with my other aunts that ran long distances. I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons when my mom would come in breathless from a run when I was a kid. Usually, she would be training for a marathon. My mom would tease me by trying to give me a sweaty hug, and I would squeal and declare it was disgusting. She would laugh and smile, feeling the endorphins from running a 10-mile distance. As a single mother, she remarked that running kept her sane and able to take on the challenges that came with it. More on that later.
As for us kids, my sister and brothers ran. Paula and Thomas ran cross country in high school. My sister was reminded that you couldn't elbow people like you were in soccer in cross country. Thomas liked to identify plants and grasses during his training runs. Leo ran for himself and found being barefoot to be the best for him. As for me, I would run for a minute before I felt like I was dying, and I swore off running for the most part.
My reasoning behind it was that I thought it was too hard to exert myself to that pain level. Only athletic people can run. The kids in physical education that jumped to do the pacer test (maybe this ages me to remind people of the pacer test) were the runners. I just wanted to get the minimal, so I didn't flunk PE.
The real reason was that I was uncomfortable in my own body on top of it being hard. Now, as a kid, I was pretty healthy and never thought about body image. That was until I hit puberty and during the mid-2000s when tabloids had loud headlines of how thin Nicole Ritchie and Lindsey Lohan were. The fashion choices of the time never made me feel comfortable being in my own body. To this day, low-rise jeans give me flashbacks to getting teary-eyed in dressing rooms, trying to fit my body into clothes that never were designed to work on a person. As a twelve-year-old girl, it felt like there were some somewhat conflicting messages. Dove ads telling me I was beautiful for exactly how I was but hearing older women around me talk about their latest diets.
When I noticed the weight gain from growing, naturally, exercise was a suggestion by adults. I would work out, saw the weight drop, and feel better, but it was never enough. My body couldn't match Keira Knightly's. My middle school thought process was that I was not worthy of love and respect if I didn't look like that.
In high school, I swam on the swim team. It was fun for a time, but I still felt the need to hide my body after getting out of the pool. After getting sick of submerging myself into an icy cold pool in February, I decided swimming laps was not for me. I gave running a try for myself. However, I didn't have the patience or even know how to keep up with it.
Flash forward to college, I decided on a lark to join my hometown's roller derby team. Roller skating hours on end while doing hitting drills got me into the kind of shape I strived for. It was the right sport for me at the time. It was an outlet for my late-blooming angst for a college kid still living at home. I felt tough and cool for once in my life. The anxieties surrounding my body still didn't leave me, and I still didn't feel at peace with myself. The end of my first stint in derby resulted in me getting my right knee injured.
Throughout my many attemps to get into shape, I still gained weight, still felt unease in my own body. I can't tell you the number of times I tried to give running a try. Around this time of year, my clothes would not fit as well as last year. I run and walk, but I end up going too fast. Classic beginners mistake.
Before Covid, I trained and ran a 5K in the Fall of 2019, and I stuck with running for longer than I previously had. Then Covid struck, and my right knee flared up again from my previous derby injuries.
Now to the present. I am single for the first time in six years. This summer was trying to navigate life without a partner. From moving into a new place, swiping through Bumble, reading self-help posts on IG, and going to therapy, I found myself trying to make peace with my body, learning that my body is not something to control. I have to live with it, no matter how it is shaped or moves.
After a summer of mostly walking and riding my bike, my knees felt better than they had in a long time. One evening on my usual walk, I felt an urge to run. I can't remember what caused me to get into a sprint. It felt good to me to run. When I got home, I grabbed an older women's running book my mom gave me that she found at Goodwill. I came across a running schedule that I began to follow.
We don't have this book on our shelves, but it is a little outdated. The run/walk schedule from the book seems to be working. Besides the practical aspects of running, I came across a book that I swiped from my mom. "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" by the novelist Haruki Murakami.
I remember bringing it with me into my new place and putting it on my bookshelf. It wasn't until recently I began to read the book, and I found myself relating to Murakami. While I am not training for the New York City Marathon, I understand the need and wants of being alone. Especially as I have started to write and being okay with my relationship status. I discovered reading his book that he used to own a jazz bar in Tokyo, which gave him many life experiences that he incorporated into his writing and running. Especially with working to keep the bar afloat. After publishing his first novel and writing full time, he began to run, realizing that it helped him with his health with minimal equipment. I have found myself in that same predicament.
I have found that running has helped with the boredom and loneliness that singleness brings. Yes, I run because I am bored. I found that I needed to occupy my time between work, seeing friends, procrastinating on projects and chores, and waiting for a guy to message me back. It is a challenge for me, plus, it gets me out of the house.
I have found that aside from the obvious physical benefits, the mental and emotional benefits are there. I am calmer. Instead of making previous mistakes like not stretching, I am doing yoga. Yoga makes me feel better, but man, is it a bore sometimes. I don't feel more enlightened or the need to do an Eat, Pray, Love thing. I mostly feel more stretched out and relaxed. If I don't do yoga a couple of times a week, I know I will feel the strain in my right knee. I do it so I can get stronger and run longer.
I also don't try to push my pace and control my breathing. When I can get into a rhythm, I finally understand the meditative aspect of running. It is even better when paired with a song by Suicide or the Bee Gees (don't knock the Bee Gees, their music was made for running. Any song played at a roller skating rink is perfect for running.) However, the sounds of leaves rustling and cicadas in late summer are remarkably perfect for running.
Running is something that I noticed has become a source of relief and suffering for me. Suffering in that running up the hill towards KU feels like a death wish. Then, I feel relief when no longer trudging up Mount Oread. Every run feels differen, too. Depending on the weather, the day of the week, how sore my muscles are feeling, my emotional state; some runs feel great, others feel like s*@t.
One line from "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" that I have kept in mind when trying to run for five minutes at a time. Murakami wrote about reading running mantras that marathoners have to keep them going—especially running 26.2 miles. "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional" was the one that caught his eye. It is true. Pain is inevitable.
Another running mantra I also keep in mind comes from 2018 Boston Marathon women's winner Des Linden. "Keep showing up." I love that quote and have a small drawing of her finishing the marathon.
Running and life get brutal, painful even. It isn't about being positive all the time or even pushing the rough patches under the rug. Even if I didn't run my best, I still did it, and I still showed up. Same for life.
I want this fall tradition to stick around all year.