The gift of running

The view from one of my mountain runs in Tennessee

We’re driving back from spring break in the Smokies. We split the drive into two days to make it easier on the kids. This morning I woke up before my family and snuck out to get in a 15 mile run.

I’m sort of training for a half marathon. I say “sort of” because I’ve not 100% decided that I’m running it. I don’t really want to pay for a race that I’m not going to perform where I want. Some people get that, other people probably won’t, and that’s ok. We all have our own way of doing these things.

This winter has been tough for training. I’ve lived through enough Michigan winters to know you just have to roll with it but this winter has been more challenging than most for running/training. It’s been a combination of illness and weather. It’s been fine, I just felt like my level of training wasn’t where I wanted it to be so close to the half. I didn’t want to pressure myself to try to make up for lost time and get injured so I allowed myself an out if I felt I wasn’t ready.

So last night after checking into our hotel I drove around looking for some fuel for the run and it was pretty slim pickings. I settled for some glucose tabs and the smallest 12 oz bottle of Gatorade I could carry for 15 miles. I wondered why I put myself through this and continued to wonder as I left into the cold, still snowy, weather in April.

Yet I had a beautiful run in a new and interesting place. I went through several parks and onto a bike trail and managed to run through some snow and wind hitting my face and making it hard to see as I ran through the little downtown area, to huge dark clouds looming at me while I ran through farmland, the smell of manure filling my nose, to the sky opening up and the sun shining on my face as I ran through a little park over a beautiful green bridge as Canadian geese moved out of my way. It was beautiful.

And I felt great. And it gave me confidence. The last couple miles were mentally hard as I faced a strong headwind and just wanted to get back, but I pushed through it. And I was glad I did.

Running is not my everything, it’s not my idol, though looking back, I can say it has been in the past. There were seasons of my life where I was injured and couldn’t run and it felt like there was this big empty hole in my life. I’ve grown in maturity and in my faith enough that this is not the case anymore. Running holds a dear spot in my heart but it’s not my idol any longer. I love being able to run and I hope to be able to do it my entire life. I try to appreciate every opportunity I get, we just never know when life will throw us those curve balls and if I couldn’t ever run again, I know I’d be ok.

Yet, I love it. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the lessons it’s taught me in life. I’ve loved the mental strength it’s developed in me. I love the stress relief it provides. I love that it’s something I do just for me and that it doesn’t require any special equipment other than a good pair of shoes. I love exploring new places by running because you see so many more things than you would just driving. I love that it keeps me physically healthy. I love that it reduces my risk of most preventable diseases.

It’s not risk free. Nothing in life is. There’s far too many runners killed every year by cars, and I’ve had my share of close calls. I’m not ignorant of the fact that I’m a woman and running by myself in areas I don’t know well is always risky. I do my best to stick to running in daylight and in areas that are not too remote but also not heavy with traffic. One of the reasons I wanted the vizsla dog we got was so that I’d have a great running partner to feel safer out running by myself. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to join me full time.

That said, the benefits far outweigh the risks. I also have genetically high cholesterol. My husband does too. New providers are often shocked to see my numbers, given the active lifestyle I have and the fact that I don’t consume much dietary cholesterol. My liver produces too much cholesterol, it’s a mutation that I inherited along with my sister and since my husband has the same mutation, my kids all likely have it too. Yet that doesn’t mean I’m more likely to have a heart attack at a younger age, even though my dad and many of his brothers did.

The fact that I DO exercise and try to eat healthy most of the time has helped me to remain extremely low risk for a cardiac event, despite my high “bad cholesterol”. My doctor told me when she put all my other information into her calculator, it still showed I had less than a 1% risk of having a heart attack in the next couple decades and it was not recommended I start cholesterol lowering medication. I make it a point to up my intake of things like ground flax seed that can raise my HDL “good” cholesterol, so that even if my LDL is too high, it’s a better ratio.

I also have another genetic heart defect that typically causes inflammation and a large and hardened artery that over time reduces blood flow and can require surgery to improve.

It’s funny looking back, I remember at 16 how nervous I was going to have it investigated. My biggest fear was being told it wouldn’t be safe for me to run anymore. I remember my dad sitting there, grilling the cardiologist. Letting him know that I push myself to the absolute limit when racing and wanting the cardiologist to guarantee that it wouldn’t cause me to go into sudden cardiac arrest. The cardiologist wouldn’t do it. Nothing in life is free of risk. Basically, my valve leaks and my heart has to work harder to pump blood efficiently through my body. This sometimes causes it to go out of rhythm and it tries to “catch up” by beating quickly all of a sudden. I’ve felt these palpitations and they are noticeably more frequent during times I’m stressed.

Still, I go to the cardiologist every few years to have a full checkup of my heart and every time so far I’ve received a great report. My artery size has been stable and my cardiac output has even improved as I’ve aged.

I can’t even imagine if I’d not run all these years. The marathons and half’s, and 5 and 10ks, and mile races I’ve done. The many miles I’ve logged and the workouts I’ve done. It’s possible my kids could inherit this too. So far the doctors have never heard a murmur, which is usually how it’s discovered, but I was 16 by the time mine was finally discovered.

All that is to say that running has likely helped me with these conditions. I might be in an extremely different situation had I not logged all these miles over the years. I’m hopeful that my love of running is something else I pass onto my kids, especially if they are more at risk of these other conditions.

I never push my kids into it. Rather, I try to lead by example. Letting them see me doing it and how much I love it. I try not to ever talk about my body or weight around them, especially about running and food. I only talk positively about exercise and how it makes me FEEL rather than look.

That’s why I’m super excited to finally get to be a coach for Alex for Girls on the Run this year!! We start this week and I’m super excited to share my love for this sport with her and other girls her age.

I could go on and on forever about the physical and mental benefits running can lead to for my kids, but it also would allow them to meet and interact with people they have nothing else in common with. Running is not political, it’s for every race, religion, sex, and income level. It teaches you how to work towards a goal and push hard enough to get results, yet be smart, and know how to rest enough to not get injured. It teaches you how to be disciplined, yet balanced. I can’t wait to share it with this group of girls!

Alex’s heart healthy activity she chose to write ❤️

I wish everyone in the world had the ability to run and also enjoyed it as much as I do. If anyone reading this is interested in starting a running program, I’m happy to talk to you and help you get started!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s