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  • michelle m. davis


This July, I quit running … for the third time.

Just as doomed relationships sometimes need three break-ups to make the ending permanent, I also required this “on again/off again” time to understand how doing what I love was harmful to my well-being.

For 44 years I’ve been a runner. Running’s helped me stay healthy, kept me in shape, released stress, and carried me through the most challenging periods of life.

It began in high school. Not because I was on the track or cross-country team, but because I wanted to become a certified aerobics instructor. For that to occur, I needed to run two miles in under twenty minutes.

Now, that’s not a fast pace … but as a non-runner, I feared not meeting this goal. So, I practiced. A lot. Our local YMCA had an indoor track—28 laps to a mile. Three times a week, I’d run 56 laps as fast as I could until I could comfortably do so in under 20 minutes. (Imagine what that tilted surface did to my body!)

The actual run for the certification was a breeze. But here’s the thing. I was hooked. Somehow, I became a runner. I even joined the “Y’s Running Club,” a group ranging from twenty-two- to sixty-two-year-olds who not only loved running, but also enjoyed the parties afterwards. While I was more of a mascot than a real participant, these people became a second family to me. They both encourage me in the sport and taught me a great deal about life. Truth be told, I didn’t really like high school. In many ways I felt more at home at the Y. Looking back, my running friends helped me navigate a tricky period of life… and I am eternally grateful for theses amazing individuals.

In college, running transitioned from a pastime to a tool. Besides serving as a well-deserved break between classes and studying, running helped me manage my weight. Pizza, ice cream, beer, then cold pizza the next morning … let’s just say the calories added up. Running helped me get that weight off … until I developed stress fractures in my feet.

However, I was young and quickly recovered. For the next ten years, I ran, but at a slower pace. Now running became a means to an end … allowing me to “get in a workout” quickly and efficiently ... which was important because life was busy, and I didn’t have a lot of spare time.

It wasn’t until both our sons were born that my interest in running shifted. No longer was its purpose merely exercise. Now running became a means to leave the house and find some peace and quiet. I think that’s when I started running farther distances again. Four miles easily turned into six. Then I’d push to seven, eight, nine. Before I knew it, I signed up for a half marathon. Then a marathon.

This was the running sweet spot. I could run solo or with friends—chatting, bonding, and solving the world’s problems. Still young enough to overcome those over-use injuries, whenever I hurt myself, I’d recover and be back on the road in no time.

But it was during my late forties that running alone became my solace. After surgery and throughout chemo, when walking was suddenly my new norm, running became my carrot … to feel better so I could do what I love. But there was more. I viewed my breast cancer experience as a marathon to endure. Breaking down each piece by assigning it a mile—double mastectomy mile 2, infusions mile 9, reconstruction 12, tamoxifen 26.2—I always had a finish line in sight.

Eventually, I was back on the trails, in nature, finding my Zen. That’s when running transitioned to a moving meditation, providing me with peace, calm, and hope.

As the years continued, an aging body and injuries began to take their toll. Reluctantly, I gave up “pounding the pavement” and only ran on dirt. Still, the muscle aches continued, even after the shorter runs. Finally, I decided it was time to call it quits. (Our first break-up.)

Over the next several months, my body felt stronger. Yoga took center stage. My flexibility increased, and I could almost touch the floor. Plus, my face looked fuller, less wrinkly.

But like many relationships that end on a sour note, I did what I said I’d never do again … I returned. Maybe seeing people run after a long winter tempted me a bit too much. Regardless of the reason, I laced up my shoes and gave it another try.

At first, I kept it to two miles, twice a week. But soon that became easy. I craved the challenge of pushing myself. So, I increased my mileage to three. Two weeks later, I went farther. This continued till my rational side capped it at six. But it was OK because I only let myself run twice a week. What was the harm?

However, eight months in, my back hurt and my joints creaked. Plus, it was an extremely cold winter, and I suddenly became afraid of falling, as there was black ice everywhere. So, I stopped cold turkey. Plus, I had yoga, did I really need running? (Break-up number two.)

Apparently so, because by early summer I was back at it. This time, on the treadmill. It worked … for a while, until it didn’t. And so, I said farewell … again. Third time’s a charm, right?

Surprisingly, I am at peace with my decision. Of course, it really wasn’t my choice—I pulled my Achilles and am wise enough to realize the seriousness of this injury. I do not want to hurt myself to the point where I am sidelined from doing the other things I love—yoga, walking, golf, the Peloton, skiing.

And so, instead of allowing my ego to persuade me into thinking I can rehab the injury and return to the sport I love … I'm conceding and allowing what is.

For the past several years, I’ve been blind to how running’s hurt more than it helped … or maybe I just didn’t want to see. The runner’s high that had me at hello lost its zing. Like a passionless relationship, there comes a time to separate.

Surrendering a piece of ourselves is difficult. Not only did I identify as a runner, but I also relied on its effects on my body, mind, and spirit. Yet, it’s natural to cling to the known, what’s worked in the past. However, as we grow older, we often grasp to what was because it feeds our ego ... though it no longer nourishes our souls. I needed to find other paths to my solitude. Running could no longer be the provider.

Running will always hold a place in my heart. The memories are sweet (though I do remember finishing one race in a great deal of pain), but I’ve changed. So, we must part.

But here's the silver lining ... when we free ourselves from what no longer serves us, we gift our soul. Miraculously, new opportunities appear as there is finally space. It is through these unknowns possibilities that we grow, expand, elevate.


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