Running Helps Me Process Unthinkable Stress. And My Calves Benefit, Apparently.

It was an unexpected question to get at bedtime. I had tucked her in, given her a kiss, and had stepped down from her younger sister’s bottom bunk – the ledge that props me up to make me tall enough for our nightly routine.

I had to think about the question for a second, because I never considered it before.

How did I get my calves to look the way they do? I didn’t realize they looked a certain way, until she asked.

Running, I guess.

That was my answer. Running. Running did that, to my surprise in the moment, since I had never realized that my calves might have reached admirable status. And that was never the goal.

But that was the simple answer. It was so much more than that. So much more than an answer to a bedtime question, at the time of day when you’re done with questions and done with bedtime delays and just done with the day.

Running was a way for me to process what life was giving me a few years ago, and it was giving me a scary and challenging opportunity to be free from manipulation and abuse, if I could cut through the bullshit. Me being free would only happen if I found a way to metabolize an unending stream of threats and chaos that were deliberately and consistently being thrown in my path.

running 3
Life has obstacles. So do obstacle course races.

So, I ran. Not very far, at first. Maybe a mile. Then I tried to go further the next day. And I did. I’d run early, before the heat. Then later in the morning when the weather cooperated. I ran in the rain, I ran while wearing gloves and ear warmers, and I ran through peak desert heat – often because my head needed me to.

running 4

I’d get waves from crossing guards, honks from friends driving by, and texts from neighbors who saw me out and about after I got home.

But I was never running away from things. Ever. It wasn’t running to escape. It was, and still is, running to process.

running 6

It’s less about processing now, because I’ve run so far that I’ve taught myself how to manage the feeble attempts at emotional manipulation I encounter and the unending fear mongering from a desperate human that I unfortunately have to witness.

Running, though, is still something I need. My body craves it, especially on those days when work keeps me tied to a chair.

running 5

When I started, I didn’t know why I needed it. There was a subtle awareness. I used the beat of my feet hitting the pavement as a soundtrack and quietly reminded myself that I was doing something in that moment I never thought I could do. Away from the pavement, I was also doing things I never thought I could do. So – shit – anything else was possible.

Running allows me to have a high-level meeting with myself. And, it allows me to be my own coach.

running 1
My best finish — even though a still photo makes you look slow!

When I realized why I needed it, I kept at it, because it was working. And when my daughter wonders how she can get her calves to look like mine? I’m torn.

I never want her to have to run for the reasons I did. But I’d love for her to discover the mental benefits of keeping with it, the upside to having one-on-one meetings with yourself.

She’s fast. And she can go. I often lag behind her, which is so cool. I’m the first to admit I’m not the fastest runner in training (but I can turn it on at a race).

I just don’t want her to have to run away from something. Because eventually you get to the away point. And you don’t need to run anymore. And what does that do for your calves? And your mind?

It’s a big conversation. One that a kid in junior high won’t get quite yet. But next time she’s struggling with something, we’ll grab our sneakers. To work on our “calves.”

running 7