I was at the doctors a few weeks ago, discussing a headache that just wouldn't go away. After doing an assessment and determining that I wasn't going to keel over and die on the spot, the doctor asked me if I was stressed out.
I have 3 kids, a full time job, a not-so-simple co-parenting situation, football and baseball, speech sessions, forever waking toddlers in the middle of the night, and a basket of laundry that is like some magically filling pit of despair.
Na, I'm not stressed.
Despite the slight sarcasm that I couldn't cover up in my answer, the doctor went on like she didn't notice.
Do you meditate?
Well, doc, I run.
She looked at me. I looked at her.
She half smiled, as if I had told a joke.
No, I mean do you meditate... like do yoga to help relieve stress? Running isn't meditation.
I’ve been a runner for a long time. It started with my mom telling my sister and I, as elementary school kids, to run laps around the house in an attempt to cure our nighttime restless legs. I started running middle school track in seventh grade, varsity cross country and track as a freshman in high school, and then on to Division I at one of the colleges that recruited me. I’ve been privy to some crazy-hard training programs and insanely tough workouts. There is nothing easy about running.
But that doesn't mean it always falls short of meditation.
Back in my prime training days, there were workouts so tough that it wasn't possible to even think about anything other than the pain. The burn in your legs, the gasp of your breath. It took every corner of your thoughts to keep putting one leg in front of the other. And while I can easily say that back then I didn't have nearly as much stress as I do now, there is something to say about an action that forces you to offer up every little part of your mind.
The day my parents dropped me off at college, I laced up my shoes the minute they left. It was either that or allow myself to be overtaken by the fear that comes with knowing life had completely changed. By the time I stepped back into my dorm room, sweaty and out-of-breath, I was ready for the challenge.
I worked through my divorce with my feet pounding on the sidewalk. I mourned the death of my grandparents while sweating out tears. I've mapped out future conversations with a million different people to the white noise of my feet hitting the pavement.
I’ve questioned how much I’m screwing up as a parent and reassured myself that maybe I’m not doing that bad all over the course of some miles.
And then there are those runs that just happen. When your mind is blank and your body syncs with the road. The feel of a cool day with the smell of leaves in the air. The feel of your muscles working together, reminding you how very alive your body is. The miles pass by, erasing worries and concerns with each one. You suddenly reach the end and realize that you had not had a thought in miles.
And although your legs may be heavy, you feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
I don't run competitively anymore. I do 5k's because I love that my 8-year-old will do them with me. I look for fun races that involve costumes or glow sticks or powdered paint blasted at your face. I register for them, not thinking twice about what our splits will be.
And when my son glances over at me with a grin on his face and takes off in a sprint for the last 100 yards, I laugh and chase after him; wondering why it's so damn hard for my legs to move that fast.
Yet after all these years... after a million injuries, after 3 babies and hernia surgery, after many pairs of orthotics and shoes, knees that sometimes hurt and sciatica pain that often flairs up... I'm still meditating.
Just not in the form my doctor expected.
And a hell of a lot slower.