Head down as I watch my feet take turns hitting the ground…*

*Lyrics from Beyonce’s Smash Into You. I know this song isn’t about running, but it could be. If you weren’t Beyoncé. And you didn’t look uhhh-may-zing in just a leotard and a flowing, chiffon cape. But, again, we’re not Beyoncé, are we?

One of my favorite views on our local running route. Well, our big house local running route. Anyway, I love the dappled sunlight, the houses, the trees, and the mostly flat, long stretch of road.

Several months ago – after a particularly rough year (emotionally) following the loss of our doggie, and succumbing to the default setting that I have that encourages me to eat, drink and try to force myself to feel merry even when I’m sad, lonely, and grieving – I decided to start to try to get back into shape. Just like many of us, I do this every few years, because it often doesn’t stick, or because I allow my emotions to control my eating and exercising habits. This time, though, I wanted it to stick.

Part of my strategy for growing a new routine in my life was to get help. Luckily for me, Jeff was willing to tackle the project of revamping ourselves together. Without his support, and his partnership, I doubt I’d have a shadow of a chance to change my ways. I also made my intentions public to my friends on Facebook, to my family, and to myself. I bought an app for my phone that would help coach me along, and set my goals at really small, incremental (read: realistic) steps that would allow for interruptions – things like traveling, family time, and personal wellness days (ladies, you know what I’m talking about) – to be included in the schedule. I set goals, and together we met them.

Firstly, may I say that since February I’ve lost about 20 lbs., and they’ve stayed off. As a bonus, I can now easily fit into clothing that I had been struggling to squeeze into, which is a huge self-esteem booster. My skin is clearer, my moods more even, my cravings lessened, and my alcohol tolerance has improved (now, I’m a cheaper date!). Along the way, however, a few different, more subtle changes have come about, ones that I’d like to share. I’ve learned a few things from this process that might be helpful to any of you who are struggling as I was to ‘right the ship’ as I like to say.

Here are a few things that running has taught me:

Being physical is fun. Now, to so-called normal people, perhaps, this is a no-brainer. But, for people like me, who find chocolate-eating fun, or wine-sipping fun, or day-long movie marathons highly therapeutic if not super fun, it is sort of a revelation to know that being physical – and that means being tired, or being pushed beyond what feels comfortable – can also be fun. Never before had I really, and deeply, felt that feeling exhausted was fun. But I guess I hadn’t been allowing my body to make small changes, week after week, for months and months. I must have given up too soon, or I must have tried to go too far too fast. Either way, I learned that it feels good to feel your legs working, your sweat dripping, your eyes stinging from the salty perspiration. If you give it long enough.

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re fed up, tired, or emotional is to go for a run. There have been some trying moments in the past few months, as there inevitably always are (this IS life we’re talking about), and on occasion I have had the foresight to stop, say aloud, ‘I really want to eat a whole cake/drink a bottle of wine/chug half of a six-pack/devour a bag of potato chips, but I think I should go for a run.’ Lucky for me, Jeff has almost always (unless injured or otherwise occupied) been up for it, even when he’s tired or fed up, too. And it helps. Every. Time. Without fail, I have never regretted going out for a run when I’m emotionally tired, or when I’m feeling stressed. If I’m feeling injured, or in pain, I listen to my body and rest. But if I’m feeling frazzled, or unable to cope, the physicality always helps. And I often have my best runs, then, too. Go figure.

You can do it, even if you think you can’t. During the process of learning to run for longer and longer spells at a time (I’m up to about 3.5 miles at a time now, which is about 35 minutes of running in a row – I started out struggling to run 1 minute at a time), not only did my body’s stamina improve, but my mind’s ability to keep at it has vastly improved. And not just for running. I can do all sorts of things longer and stronger than ever before. Even when I dread something – painting an entire apartment in days, getting the house cleaned in time for an early showing, meeting people for the first time, you name it – I feel more confident that I will be able to do it, even when I’m not feeling like I could. Because I have. Running through exhaustion, day after day, to the point where that former distance (say, running 4 minutes in a row) becomes doable, and almost easy (about the 11 minutes in a row mark I recalled with glee that 4 minutes used to be so hard, and that now I was about to run for 11! in a row!) really gets your brain ready and willing to know that you can do more than you thought you could. And you could do it again if you had to. And you’d probably like it.

Consistency is good for you, even if you prefer spontaneity. I’m not really a planner, and don’t really do well with steady commitments, or routines (for me, they produce anxiety). Except with running. I do much better when there’s a routine, one that I just do, without thinking, without hemming or hawing about. The past month or so our routine has been turned on its ear – partly due to the preparations for the new apartment, partly due to showings at the house, partly due to minor injuries or physical interruptions (brought on by stress) – and I’ve really felt how much I miss the consistency. We had been running 4 times a week, about 30 minutes each time, and we’ve had some weeks where we’ve only managed 1 or 2 runs. But, what this proves to me is that this time my changes are sticking. I’m learning to not only love to run, I’m craving it like I used to crave chocolate or fried things. And that is the best thing of all.

All of these things are small in the grand scale of life: I’m not looking to complete a marathon, nor am I trying to compete with others for the best timed 5K, I’m just trying to get to, and stay at, a healthier weight. And to learn to treat my body like the machine that it is, with all the routine maintenance that goes along with it. I’m grateful for what my body gives me, and for what I’m able to understand from that experience. I hope your body is getting the love it deserves from you, and that you are feeling the love from it right back at’cha.