How Running Saved My Life

Silhouette of athletic girl running down the beautiful road

Growing up in gymnastics and dance, I was always an active kid. I hit the genetic lottery with a mom who was built with a small, petite frame and a seemingly high metabolism. I luckily inherited those great genes and never struggled with maintaining a healthy weight. Even into adulthood and college, I was able to stay reasonably fit without much struggle.

That all changed the moment I stepped off an airplane with my second son in 2011. He had spent his first four years in an orphanage in China. Our world was rocked by his significant special needs and past traumas. I found myself in a lonely, chaotic, anxiety-ridden world that I could not control.

Meeting my 4 year old son for the first time.
Meeting my 4 year old son for the first time.

My mental and physical health took a hit as I struggled to parent my new son and maintain some kind of normalcy and sanity for our family. I was working full time and put my own wellness on the back burner. One year after my second son had been welcomed home, life was not any easier. And by this time I was literally and figuratively burned out.

My anxiety was at an all-time high. I had always somehow dealt with my life-long, crippling anxiety, but now I was at a point that I felt desperate. Depression was creeping in. Weight gain was the least of my worries, but I knew my health was declining. I knew something had to change. But I was pressed for time and my options were few. On a whim, I decided to sign up for a 5K that would benefit a special needs program I happened to love.

I had NEVER run. Well, except for maybe on the playground growing up. I used to think that no one could ever really enjoy running…that people who ran for fun must be crazy. But it was something I could do on my own, away from my family and it could be done quite cheaply and easily. It would be a great mental break and help me regain some healthy habits.

So I began to run before work on Wednesday mornings. Just one day a week. I ran my 5K and thought to myself, “this isn’t so bad.” It was more than just runner’s high that got me addicted. It was the time I had alone with my thoughts. It was the realization that I was much stronger and more capable than I ever had imagined. Once I discovered trail running, I knew I was hooked for life. I could now combine my love for hiking with my newly discovered love for running.

Although I had been “fit” all my life, I had never felt strong or accomplished. Running made me feel that way. I was 100% hooked.

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My first 5K, running for my son.

The next thing I knew, I was running a half marathon. And I wanted more. Then bam, I became pregnant–something we weren’t sure could ever happen without medical intervention.

The pregnancy was rough. Many hospitalizations occurred, gestational diabetes blindsided me and premature labor landed me with an emergency c-section. And all throughout, my son with special needs was in the fight of his life battling his past emotional traumas, resulting in two stays in the psychiatric hospital.

Times were dark. Postpartum depression and anxiety nearly got the best of me. I felt that my body had failed me and that I had also failed at motherhood.

But as time passed and my body healed, so did my son. Before I knew it, I was running again, but this time with a renewed passion. My time with gestational diabetes had been a stark warning for me. I knew that due to some health conditions I have, I am at a higher risk for developing type II diabetes. I realized now, more than ever, what an important role these runs were playing in my life. Turns out that running is also one of the ways that I manage my chronic, paralyzing anxiety that I have dealt with my entire life.

So here I am, about to embark on many new trail running adventures that will ultimately lead me to the French Alps.

So when I say that running saved my life, I mean it. Now perhaps if I had not become a runner I’d still be around, but I know for sure that my mental and physical state would be in a chaotic, unhealthy place. Instead of feeling like a mess, I now feel like a beautiful, strong mess. And that I like.

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