New Year, new resolution: In search of joy

The New Year has come and found me and my daughter stricken with stomach flu. But we are on the mend, if not yet up to full strength. Until I can muster the strength for original thought, enjoy this classic Siren post from Jan. 4, 2010 (program note: I was pregnant in 2010, NOT now):

Prove something to yourself — one step at a time:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the changes ahead for me and what kind of person I want to be when my status officially changes to “mother.” And I realized that this will be the first year in many years that I will not have a New Year’s resolution related to my body’s weight or size. True, I did make a resolution to eat at least one fruit/vegetable at each meal. But that is to be healthy and to have a healthy diet for the little gestating fetus. As a pregnant woman, I am certainly not resolving to diet this year or get down to a size or wear a bikini by summer. In some ways it is absolutely liberating! And it got me thinking that we should all feel so liberated all the time. At least those of us who have spent any amount of time feeling bad about ourselves as human beings because we don’t look right, weigh right, fit right, have the right skin or otherwise fit in a narrowly defined archetype of beauty.

Sirens, throw off the shackles of institutionalized beauty!

Now, I’m not saying that you should not do things that are healthy. A big part of my past resolutions to lose weight was that the weight was severely impacting my health and future. I was dealing with multiple illnesses and effects from carrying too much fat on my body. And as far as I’m concerned, making your life better by gaining back health is the very best reason of all to lose weight. (But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was nice to move away from the plus-size section.) So, if you’re out there making changes and choices to add years to your life, good for you! I salute you! I know just how difficult it can be. (I lost 50 pounds over two years.)

I guess my point is that all this change has to come from a healthy, good place. Your motivation and inspiration are just as important as what the outcome is.

In this spirit, I want to make the case for the power of running. I have been on a running hiatus during my pregnancy and I admit that I miss it. (Indeed, one of my goals is that I will be able to get back out there sometime this fall and maybe have enough strength to do a 5K by December.) It’s kind of a startling revelation to me, considering how much I used to loathe the very idea of running. Why bother, unless you are being chased? I believed that running was an unmentioned circle of hell.

I started running in early 2008. I had been dieting and exercising at the gym but had plateaued. Meanwhile, my father-in-law was in the middle of a painful battle with terminal cancer. I was depressed and had a lot of trouble motivating myself. My husband, who does triathlons, was understandably depressed as well. I was still pretty over-weight and taking a lot of different medications to control asthma, allergies and other unpleasantness. My husband and I were talking at the gym one night and the conversation veered to running and 5Ks. I told him that even though I hate to run, I had been thinking about doing a 5K. He was instantly very excited. He had been wanting me to join him in the crazy world of endurance sports (running, biking, triathlons, etc.) for some time.

While I would still never consider myself an endurance athlete or even a very good runner — before the pregnancy, I think I ran a mile in a little over 11 minutes — I can tell you that running changed my life. When I set out to do my first 5K, the 2008 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, I felt like it was a moment that would define my relationship with my body for the rest of my life. I had drawn a line in the sand. Was I going to get better and start taking something back from physical illness? Or was I going to wallow in self-pity and let my life be about counting pills, doctor appointments and inhalers? I have a hereditary immune system disorder and that will never go away. But even my doctors had more hope for me than I did in those days. I had given up. I had let go of joy.

Running a 5K was just about the biggest goal in the world to me, especially with the added stress and emotions of dealing with cancer. It seemed unattainable on every level. But something about that inspired me! My husband was a patient coach and we used the Couch to 5K program, which starts you at walking and uses intervals to train you up to running 3.1 miles (or a 5K). (I believe having a solid training plan and a willing training buddy are integral. I couldn’t have done it without those two elements!) The training was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. It was physically exhausting. It was mentally exhausting. It forced me to re-prioritize parts of my life (less time for TV and empty calorie foods just seemed like a waste of all that effort).

But the hardest part of running my first 5K, more than anything else was the mental road-blocks I put up for myself. Every “I can’t.” Every time I told myself that I didn’t want to run because there were no cute plus-size workout clothes. (I went anyway.) Every time I told myself that a fat asthmatic had no business being outside running the slowest pace humanly possible (because that was the best I could do). Every time an old person passed me. Every time I started wheezing so hard that people we passed on the street looked horrified and said things like, “Is she alright?” Every time I thought in my head, “I’m never going to make it to running a 5K.” And of course, every time I told myself that I was not a runner and hated running and was glad I didn’t have to do it again until the next time.

And I’m telling you that it was all that and more – Every Time.

But as the weeks went on, I gained a little bit more time I could run without stopping to walk. My knees stopped hurting as much. I learned not to panic when my breath was coming out so hard that I couldn’t hear anything around me. (It is not cute.) I felt amazed every time I could go farther than I did before. It was like smashing through invisible walls every time. And as those walls came tumbling down inside myself, I could see someone new looking through my eyes in the mirror. I wasn’t this half-defective fatty with no hope. I was strong. I was strong!

Every night we went out to run, with every step I was proving something to myself.

And all the while, my father-in-law was cheering me on! He was fighting for his life trying to beat back cancer and live as many more weeks as he could and he was cheering me on. This is why I picked the Komen race. It was an attainable training time-frame and I knew I was running out of time to do a race before my father-in-law would die from pancreatic cancer. True, Komen was not about the same kind of cancer as my father-in-law’s, but when you get down to it all cancer is evil and anything that fights it and helps people through it is worthwhile.

When race day came I was filled with doubts. I still wasn’t sure. My husband and I had done a practice 5K run around our neighborhood. So in my head, I knew I could do it. But my spirit was small. And unfortunately, I had caught the flu a couple days before. So there I was; a sick, over-weight asthmatic staring down the start line surrounded by women who presently had or had survived cancer. I had to fight for the finish line — my husband giving me a one-man pep-rally the whole way — with every step and every labored, cough-riddled breath. I had to stop on the sideline many times just to hack my way through coughing fits. The loud, rasping, asthmatic wheeze/breath that I was used to during normal runs was dialed up a notch by the flu. Every now and then, bald women in pink shirts would stop as they were passing me and say, “Hey, you can do it!” I was getting cheered on by women who had cancer! I couldn’t stop after that!

And I didn’t stop! I ran and walked and hacked and cried my way to the finish line on Fremont Street. And I cried with joy when I did it! I did it for myself! No one can run for you. No one can move all that stuff out of your own head but you. No one can move your feet but you. And as far as I was concerned, my 63-minute race time was the best 5K time in the history of the world. As far as I was concerned I was a champion. That’s what running gives you. It gives you the power of yourself.

And when I was training for the Komen run in 2009, all those feelings came back to me and pushed me forward to do even better. 52 minutes! I am a slow-running rock star! And it was during a sweaty, grueling late-summer training session that I had the overwhelming feeling that I was definitely going to throw up. I had never thrown up during training before. And I couldn’t go on and finish that session. The next day, I peed on a stick and found out I was pregnant.

I just wanted to share that with you because I don’t want you to waste another second on some shitty New Year’s resolution that is really about how bad you feel about yourself. I don’t want you to waste another second hating yourself or your body. Whatever you do with 2010, make it golden. Find that which will set you free — be it running, knitting, bee-keeping or what have you. Liberate your life from things that don’t matter and it will awaken your soul to your own boundless joy.

Happy New Year!

PS: If you need some inspiration, here is the song that pumped me up for my first big race:

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