I don’t know how to slow down and take it easy. Why is it so hard to relax? This is a loaded question I’ve asked myself nearly every day since quarantine started. I’m supposed to be savoring this time to enjoy the little things by staying close to home and catching up on forgotten tasks, but I just can’t help wanting to pick up the pace.
I start almost every day with a run. After three or four miles, I return home and shower for work, which has now gone virtual. I work until lunch and then I take a break where I try to move around again, sometimes yoga or maybe a bike ride. Then I occasionally run in the evenings again after my workday ends.
So what else do I occupy myself with if I’m not running? I don’t knit, I don’t enjoy board games (I know… big sigh) and I am not great at cooking (ask my cookbook club). Sometimes it feels like I don’t have any hobbies outside running. Running gives me a constant push to my limits that I crave and I just don’t feel right if I haven’t gone for a run. On the other side of this quarantine, will everything change? Will I suddenly appreciate open time more and decide I can run, just a little less?
Right before COVID-19 took the world by storm, I went to the doctor because I haven’t had a menstrual cycle in three months. My doctor told me I am probably exhausted from the running I do, on top of working a full-time job and pursuing a part-time graduate program. Has running made me this constant overachiever? How long have I been striving to be “the perfect runner?”
After the visit, I realized running is the only thing I do that keeps all that normal, even though maybe on some level it is hurting me.
In almost an obsessive, unhealthy way, running has also become an addiction. I am addicted to lacing up my shoes and leaving my quiet house for the louder streets. I am addicted to feeling the sweat roll down my back every humid Texas morning. I am addicted to how I feel when I look in the mirror and see my body shape. I’ve put too much pressure on running. But right now, it’s the only thing that feels routine and gives me a sense of balance during these stressful times.
Then, everything became too much. When the pressure boiled up recently and I didn’t know what else to do, I told my partner how I was feeling. I felt this intense burden to keep up with my running schedule. I was obsessed with checking my stats in an app to see if I ran certain segments faster and if I was improving pace. I was also upset I couldn’t go to Geyserville in April for the Salomon WMN ½ Marathon. While those are trivial problems compared to everything else going on right now, I was feeling lost in the redundancy of my day-to-day routine, yet still trying to control the situation.
I was looking for answers and found one where I least expected it.
“Let yourself be imperfect,” my partner told me. He isn’t a runner, but he does support me at every race, and he is very familiar with me being my own worst critic. He will never understand the pressure a woman can feel with body image and exercise, but he had good advice. Every time he would see me look in the mirror after a run, he would remind me of what he said: “let yourself be imperfect.” I soon realized allowing myself to be imperfect was the antidote I needed to stop having constant stress about my body, the state of the world, and running.
Imperfection is more fun. When you schedule your life around constant control and order, you lose a great deal of passion for daily tasks. Behind the struggle to keep up with daily running, I discovered that for the longest time, my running has been linked to an emotional feeling. I seem to pick up the pace and feel successful as a runner when I’m sad or angry. A few miles on the trail doesn’t feel the same when I don’t feel a certain type of strong emotion. Right now, with so many changes, sometimes I just feel nothing and that’s okay too.
I recently had the opportunity to hit the trails at Big Bend National Park and had the opportunity to think about this more deeply. Letting myself be imperfect during this time means I don’t need to run every day. I don’t need to give up ZOOM chats with friends in order to add on more miles to my week. I can let myself just be and not have to worry about it because it’s too stressful to always be perfect. It’s better to focus on having fun and enjoy the scenery (even if it is the same every day).
I so appreciated this…..I need to remind myself constantly that it is not about body image and getting everything just right. I am in a job that demands perfection, so it is hard not to carry that over into my personal life. In the past I have struggled with an eating disorder due to how demanding I was of myself to be “perfect.” I am now married to someone (for 37 years) who has told me that he loves me as I am. That, and articles like the one written here, help me to maintain my balance.