Exercise and activity has never been a stranger to me. At two-years-old, my mother put me in dance classes. I did tap, jazz, ballet, and acro. Believe it or not, but I was the worst one in my acrobatics class. I’ve always had crazy-developed legs, but no upper body strength.
This made it difficult when we were learning back walkovers. The easy way to teach one is to push up in a bridge (full wheel in yoga) and then kick over. I could kick, but I wasn’t strong enough in the arms and shoulders to help pull my foot over. My mother, who loved gymnastics, decided to teach me how to do the skill in one movement – start standing up, slowly arching my back and lowering until my hands touched, and then kicking right at the moment my fingertips came into contact with the ground.
What I lacked in upper strength, I made up in fearlessness. I quickly progressed from a back walkover to a back handspring, and then I was doing round-off back handsprings. My mom taught me all of those skills. Recognizing my talent, she quickly deduced I wasn’t going to get the training I needed from the dance instructors, and put me in gymnastics (which was best for me because I’m complete Awkward White Girl when it comes to rhythm).
I tried a couple of other sports, but being a complete shrimp (my sister was two years younger than me and my height) and also being a jackass when it came to losing team sports, gymnastics quickly became my sport. I guess it helped that I picked up skills on the other events (bars, beam, and vault) pretty quickly too.
From kindergarten until freshman year, gymnastics was my life. I started competing on team at the end of my first grade year. I have to say, I was more than a little confused when my coach started talking about “meets.” I honestly thought it was a meeting. I had no clue I was going to perform my routines and get a score. However, after not receiving a medal, I quickly figured out that the girls who had no falls, wobbles, or mistakes, were the ones who won. And I wanted a medal.
Over the course of my career, I still made mistakes (though they normally came in the form of my full turn on beam), but more often than not I got great scores. Bars became my best event. Pretty ironic for a girl with no upper strength to be able to swing bars, but at this point my stomach and back were so strong that it didn’t matter that my biceps and triceps were nonexistent.
During my career, I was in a gym pushing my body for at least 25 hours a week. I ate, breathed, and lived gymnastics. Even now, I’m pretty sure the soul of gymnastics is imprinted on the nucleus of every cell in my body.
While I technically missed out on that whole high school/college relationship with that first boyfriend you never can quite get over, I don’t believe any relationship could have ever measured up to gymnastics. Gymnastics was my reason for being. It was life.
The problem with making something your life is that it consumes you. The highs, while they are amazing – seriously, standing on top of the podium after nearly perfect routines never got old – but, the lows were bad. If I fell (I did standing back tucks on beam, but a full turn would put me in a pile on the mat) that day or weeks that followed was just complete misery.
After injuries forced my hand and cost me a scholarship, I got into a bit of a rut. I did cheerleading (it’s pretty much obligatory of every ex-gymnast go this route). The problem got to be that I wasn’t working out enough to match my diet. In gymnastics, I didn’t have to diet. But after gymnastics came puberty, and then my appetite caught up to me.
Running didn’t come to me naturally. Even as a freshman in tip-top shape, I still had a hard time running a mile in 10 minutes to pass. Run 26.2 miles? Freshman Erin would look at me and laugh and laugh and laugh if I could travel back in time and tell her that running gets easier, becomes her stress-relief, and that she’ll sign up and finish two marathons (even if I have to crawl to the end of this next one).
My second semester of college, I decided enough was enough. Weights weren’t helping me get my shape back, and I added cardio into my workouts. I abhorred cardio, but something needed to give. Enter the elliptical machine. I thought I was a running fool. But when I took my dog for a run, a hunting breed that never tired of running and walking, I quickly found out I was just a fool.
With the help of my Brittany Spaniel named Mac, I became a runner. We started out slowly – jogging a few blocks and walking more. But gradually, the walking stopped. Mac was crazy about running. He knew the difference between my running shoes and my shoes I wore to the gym. Upon getting my running shoes out, he would start crying, jumping on me, running circles out of my bedroom into the living room and back. I have a video my brother took probably ten years ago of him completely freaking out because we were going running. My biggest regret will always be that I didn’t start running with that dog soon enough.
My first running partner. He’s always with me.
When Mac was 13, I was training for my first half marathon. I never took him on any of the long runs, but as my weekly runs climbed up to 6 miles, he was with me. I was always cautious of him because thirteen is not young, but he did it like a champ. The next year would be a slow decline with our runs becoming walks.
I owe so much to that dog that I’ll never be able to repay him for.
With him, I found out exactly how much I love running. I don’t love it the way I loved gymnastics. Honestly, I’m not even sure if my relationship with gymnastics was healthy. If I had a bad day, I laced up my shoes and went running. The day my sister boarded a plane after her wedding and moved to Denmark, I learned that it was impossible to cry and run at the same time. After four miles, my eyes were dry and I needed a nap.
Of course, not all runs are created equal and I’ve had just as many bad runs as I have had amazing runs. In fact, I had an entire year where running just felt sluggish, my times were atrocious, and other than weight management, I’m not sure why I continued. This was the year after my first marathon, and looking back now, I think this slump was because I wasn’t prepared for how big a task running 26.2 miles really is.
But through the good and the bad, running is always there for me. It stopped my from strangling people while I worked retail and served, it kept me thin-ish, and then when I got older and realized a lifestyle change was in order, it helped me lose weight. When there were times I was worried about paying my bills, or passing an accounting test, running was right there to stop me from being a completely crazy person and put me back to my only half-crazy self.
I still love gymnastics. It’s an amazing sport. I will never be as passionate about running as I was about gymnastics. That’s for the best though. I love running. And I don’t love running for for the amazing things I have and can accomplish, but what it does to me.
Running feeds and nourishes my soul in a way that gymnastics never could. Running this second marathon isn’t about finishing in a better time (although that would be amazing) than the last time. This marathon is about me. During this year, my diet carved off 20 pounds and turned my into a more shapely person, but my running has carved at away at my soul and helped me connect with myself in a way I’ve never been able to in the past.
That’s what running is to me. What is running to you?