Permission to Stop Running

Essay

I was not anticipating the wave of loneliness and sadness that consumed me as I finished my first run in months. I should have been exhilarated and happy from the exertion, but I was not. I’d felt this sadness after a run before, but never this powerfully. Never before had I questioned my reasons for running as I did in that moment. Maybe, I thought, it was ok to not run anymore.

It was the 70-degree weather on November 11, 2020–the wanting a quick fix for the softness around my middle and my inner voice telling me I should be running–that propelled me out the door. I told myself that it would be another form of mediation. I would not keep time, I would not worry about my pace or the distance covered, I would not listen to music, I would just move in the moment. As I took my first steps, I was already looking away from the moment and into the future, scheming that if I could do a simple run a few times a week then I could certainly continue to run through the winter (something I’ve never done), solving the soft middle dilemma (maybe I should stop sneaking M&Ms).and securing what my inner voice was telling me was my lynchpin to happiness. 

It was in 2012 that I started running to cope with my depression, and the death of my father. Then it was needed and it was wonderful, but now, perhaps it was time to find a new “medicine”? In 2014 I did Running Down Cancer. In the summer of 2018, I ran nearly every day because the previous winter I had gone off my antidepressants and after returning from a trip from Utah realized I desperately need to get myself out of the hole I was in and never go off my medication again. By the summer of 2019 while walking on the beach in Michigan I realized that I did not need to run to cope. But I didn’t give myself permission to stop and thus kept “shoulding” (I should be doing this, I should be doing that) myself about how I needed to run to stay on an even keel.

In the early spring of 2020, I ran regularly to deal with being cooped up due to the pandemic. But by June running just seemed like too much–another thing that needed to get done so that I didn’t slip into the darkness. Over the past eight years, I had convinced myself that I needed to run to survive, ignoring the fact that since I’d changed medications and I’d changed my therapist, there was no reason why I could not change my physical activity. The reality was that I had never run just for fun. I’d done it to cope, to put on a mask of who I thought I wanted to be so that I could be happy. But relying on outside forces for joy is simply not sustainable. 

Two days after my less than invigorating run on November 11th, as I walked briskly up the Summit Trail of Mount Philo State Park with our dog Jedi, I realized that walking this mountain was just as exhilarating as running it. I was seeing far more than I had all those hundreds of times I’d run the trail in the past. I was putting my mindfulness practice to work and approaching other people with compassion rather than thinking about myself and wondering if the “mask” of who I thought I should be was showing forth as I imagined it was. This compassion flooded me with joy and at that moment I gave myself permission to stop running to cope.