|I read Devin Kelly’s astonishing piece Children in the Garden: On Life at a 3,100 Mile Race the other day, and I can’t even begin to tell you how deeply it moved me. Up till then, I had only heard of ultramarathons (or “ultras” in the running world) as yet another endeavour that runners undertake to see what physical limits they could push through. Unlike marathons, where you usually have supporters by the sidelines providing much needed fuel, ultras were all about solitude. An ultra runner shared with me what a lonely affair it was for him. Yet he returns time and again, longing for something that even he couldn’t articulate.
I started thinking about my relationship with running, and gentleness. I’ve been an avid runner since my late teens. It started off with the desire to lose weight. Shame cast a steady shadow over my formative years, and running was the key to freedom. By the time I’d hit my ideal weight, running had become an addiction, and redemption. For the times I overstepped my daily caloric intake, witnessed a flickering of digits on the scale, or felt a tightening of the measuring tape against my waist. With my ballooning stamina and speed, it also gave me a sense of pride. The fat girl was now hard, swift as wind, and her bullies could never catch her.
For that reason alone, I have a searing love for running, more than life itself. Because it made me feel worthy of those glittering things that the attractive girls seemed to have–attention, confidence, admiration. And the biggest cookie of it all–love. Running made me believe in my body again, that it could be—do I dare?—beautiful. Because it kept giving and surprising, even though I kept pushing. It smoothened unkindness with grace, lifting my head higher with each step.
It took a long time for me to learn how to reciprocate that gentleness. Turning away from measurements was hard, but when I finally did it, I felt truly free from the coils of perfection, and that released joy. I tell myself that it’s been more than 10 years and I’m still running. That’s all that matters. Running is one of many ways to feel the miracle that is the human body, and its enormous capacity for life. It is, for me, a way to experience stillness in motion, for each footfall to remind me that I’m still here. That in each moment, from zero to a thousand steps, I have arrived.
I hope you’ll be gentle with yourself today. You, too, have arrived.
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