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My health journey: On running and having your s**t together

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This article contains some moderately strong language.

Running has always made me feel strong, mentally and physically. It’s always given me space to take, to occupy, when I felt like I was disappearing.

/Alex Fluegel

Gazelle Girl winner

Alex Fluegel, one of the winners of the Gazelle Girl writing challenge for The Rapidian this year, shares this essay about her own health journey as part of our challenge to local women to share their own stories.

Registration is still open for Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5k. Find more information here.

Follow along for race and training tips and other information on the Gazelle Girl Facebook group.

/Alex Fluegel

You know who has their shit together? Runners. 

You see them up before the sun, getting their miles in while most of us are still rubbing sleep from our eyes. They measure their alcohol intake, their water intake; they eat nutrient-rich food and get enough sleep. They take vacations but still check their email, and their kids are happy and well-behaved. They invest in high-tech sneakers and reflective jackets and pay their bills on time. 

You see them travelling in organized, brightly-colored packs, even in white-out conditions with a foot of new snow, they’re out there huffing along roads, sidewalks and trails.

They are determined; they are balanced; they are having it all. 

So, for about 10 years, I’ve kind-of run. Just here and there, mostly in an attempt to convince myself that I kind-of had my shit together. Running for sport/fitness is a luxury, reserved for people who have time to exercise, whose daily lives aren’t completely and fully consumed with demands and constraints, so if I could etch out even a run or two a week/month, it must mean I’m doing pretty good. Right?

You know what’s more fun than running? Everything. 

Or at least that’s what I thought and what always seemed to push me off my runner’s wagon. I had a lovely list of reasons why I couldn’t run. I don’t have time. I’m tired. I should really go visit my grandma instead. My house is a mess. I’ll just eat extra healthy this week. I should work. I can’t just refuse a homemade meal. I need to relax. It’s not like I’m training for a marathon or something. 

Yes, some of those reasons are legitimate. Sometimes my body was tired and it needed to rest. And if I ever had the choice between taking a Saturday morning jog and working a few extra hours, I always chose work. Running wasn’t going to pay my bills. But most of them were just my way of rationalizing around of doing the best thing for myself. 

Running has always made me feel strong, mentally and physically. My mind’s always the clearest right after a run, and increasing your speed or distance makes you feel a pride similar to what you feel when someone you love succeeds. It’s always given me space to take, to occupy, when I felt like I was disappearing. 

I all-but-disappeared once. Infatuated with a man marred by his past, cringing at the sound of my own voice, learning lessons, including not to confuse sympathy with love. That’s what you hear a lot of people (especially women) say when they rationalize their love for a partner who hurts them. They’ve had it so hard. I can’t just abandon them. They need me. 

Well, it’s what I said at least. I had my list of reasons why I couldn’t leave, most of them excuses built on fear, though there were some legitimate reasons why I stayed. And I did stay for a little while, about nine months longer than I should have, and during that time, there was one thing that I would do to escape: run. 

My home had become made of glass, ready to shatter at any moment. I knew that hell could break loose out of nowhere, that war could be waged with my daughter on the battlegrounds, and that everyone would see. So I ran. 

Just 15 minutes at a time to start. I’d lace up my sneakers and secure my three-month-old into the jogging stroller and leave. It was slowly becoming spring while we twisted and turned through a nearby subdivision, me watching her watch the sky. 

I felt strong; I felt connected. But I still figured if I was able to go for my runs, things couldn’t be that bad. As the runs became more frequent, I realized it was actually quite the opposite. I wasn’t running because I had it all together. I was running because everything had fallen apart.

So I left. I moved my daughter and I and created a new space, a home made of stone and love and self-care. I took that jogging stroller out into a new neighborhood, found new routes, made up new stories in my head about all the people who lived inside and began to see how powerful the act of running could be: how it could morph from a luxury to an act of survival. I also started to kind of like it. (And I realized running at my gym could be the only 30 minutes I get to spend alone-ish during the day – isn’t it grand how becoming a parent teaches you how precious being by yourself is?)

I never thought I’d become someone who runs for fun. I mean I still think a lot of other things are as fun more fun than running, like drinking Soft Parades on a beach or watching an entire season of House of Cards while eating a box of Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits. 

I also never thought I’d be the victim of domestic violence, I mean I WAS A RUNNER. I hated the thought of giving up on something and someone.

Fleeing seemed like an act of giving up until I understood that staying meant giving up on myself. I could admit that I didn’t quite have it all together and that it was okay because it turns out very few people have their shit together, even runners. 

Now, each day I run it’s for a different reason. Some days it’s to feel better about eating that entire box of Triscuits, and others it’s to remind myself of the distances I’ve crossed and the ones that still lie up ahead. I run in the snow because it makes me feel a Midwestern toughness, a toughness rewarded by smelling freshly-cut grass or observing a swan in the spring. I run with my daughter and still watch her watch the sky. And most of all, I run to remind myself of the importance of moving forward, even if my legs are jello and my sneakers are worn. I run to take care of myself, a luxury I never thought I could afford- even though all along, it was free.

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Keep running Alex!