I was so hungry for a run this morning, I could taste it.

It’s been a busy week. Between hosting an exchange student and running around to various appointments, meetings, etc., I haven’t been able to run since Monday. I missed it.

On Monday I ran six miles and was rather thrilled with myself. This morning I wanted to run another six, but after the first mile I wasn’t sure I could make two, let alone six. My knees and shins were hurting.

I pushed through, though. I wasn’t satisfied with one or two miles. I kept pushing all the way to five. It felt good, but bad all at the same time. I may regret pushing so hard if my muscles seize up tomorrow.

I never really know… is it wise to push through pain, or better to rest until it’s better?

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In case you think I’m turning into a lean, mean, running machine, let me assure you otherwise. I am still about 40 pounds overweight. I’ve been running a few times a week for nine months and haven’t really lost any weight (though I don’t know for sure because I don’t own a scale).

Most days, that doesn’t really bother me. It’s been such an amazing journey so far, and the part about learning to love and trust and honour my body is worth so much more than reaching some kind of ideal weight that may in fact have nothing to do with the size my body SHOULD be.

I said most days, because today is not one of those days. Today I’m discouraged. Today I looked at a photo of myself and thought “why am I still so fat?” Today I wish it were otherwise. Today I’m sitting on the couch with my jeans unbuttoned for comfort, thinking “shouldn’t they be loose by now?”

What’s discouraging is that, even though I haven’t made a significant effort to change my diet, I know I’m certainly not eating more than I used to eat. I’m eating reasonable amounts, and mostly healthy foods, and I rarely find myself eating to excess. If I’m burning extra calories and the intake is the same, shouldn’t that result in a loss?

Fortunately, the days when I feel discouraged are fewer than the days when I feel transformed, so I’ll stick with this journey and send a little extra love to this body that’s mine for better or for worse. Even if it never changes, it’s a pretty amazing body and it’s feeling better and better every day.

Today I ran thirty minutes without pausing, walked for a few minutes, ran twelve more, walked a couple of minutes, and ran seven more. Did you hear that… THIRTY MINUTES WITHOUT PAUSING! Just a few weeks ago, I surprised myself by doing twenty two minutes instead of my usual ten. And now I can do thirty. I am surprising myself with my endurance. A year ago, I could barely run to catch the bus without stopping to do some heavy breathing.

I’m not a fast runner by any stretch of imagination (I covered just over five miles in that time), but I’m running and sweating and grinning and loving it.

I don’t think I’ve ever sustained an exercise plan for nine months before. I don’t think I’ve ever woken in the morning happy to get on with the day because it was an exercise day before.

I can’t remember when I’ve felt this healthy (in body, mind, and soul) before.

The Celts speak of thin places, where the veil between the holy and the mundane is so thin that you can see glimpses of the Divine.

When I run, I often feel like I am entering those thin places. When I’m long past the two minute panic, my body re-learns the beauty of breathing deeply, responding to the cries of my muscles begging for more oxygen. My heart begins its strong pounding sending extra blood to the hungry extremities. My mind settles into the rhythm of my footsteps.

In those moments, I find myself closer to the Divine. In those moments, I hear whispers of wisdom that are too often drowned out in the mundane busy-ness of the rest of my life.

It’s not just running that ushers in the thin places. Sometimes it’s photo walks, when I lose track of time in my wandering and lose track of space in my deep noticing of the way branches cross against the blue sky. Sometimes it’s painting, when I get absorbed in the simple brush strokes that bring art to life.

It’s not something I can force, and it doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, I walk away in awe.

What helps usher in the thin places for you?

Sometimes running feels like redemption.

One of the only times in my life that I’ve felt really good about my body was the summer I was raped. I was twenty-two years old and I’d spent my summer on a bike, preparing to race as the cycling leg of a three-person triathlon team. I was toned, tanned, and feeling terrific.

Two days before the race, a man broke into my apartment, raped me and tried to choke me to death.

I tried to convince myself that I could race anyway, and even drove to the town where the race was to be held. I wanted it so badly. I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I could be athletic, despite the stories I’d told myself all of my adolescence. I didn’t want to let the rapist take that dream away. By the time I got there though, I knew I couldn’t do it. I was shaky with stress and shock and my neck ached with the reminder of the violence his hands had born on it.

I turned my car around and drove to my parents’ farm where I crumpled into their arms.

I wouldn’t say that my lack of body love is solely because a rapist took it away. There are many more layers to it than that. But I’m ready for redemption. I’m ready for the next chapter. I’m ready to live a new story.

This summer I hope to run a half marathon. Not because I need some goal to validate this running practice, but because I want to take back that triathlon that was taken away from me.

It might have taken me half my life to get here, but I’m ready.

I’m ready to run. I’m ready to be free.

There’s always that moment, two minutes in, where I’m sure I won’t make it this time. My whole body wants to give up.

“Ouch! This is hurting! I change my mind. Let’s go home,” my legs cry out.

‘I’m not getting enough oxygen! I can’t do this!” my lungs scream.

“There are SO many better ways to spend this time,” my mind complains.

And yet I persevere and a few minutes later I’ve hit my stride. My legs have become accustomed to moving again, my lungs have found their deep-breathing relief, and my mind settles in and begins to relax to the quiet rhythm of the run.

An hour later, as I approach mile five, my body is on fire, my heart is pounding, and my lungs are gasping for breath. Rivulets of sweat pour from my face. But I feel amazing. Alive and invigorated and full of the sweet taste of adrenalin.

“We did it!” my whole body cries. “We persevered!”

If it weren’t for the memory of that feeling, I’d never make it past the second minute.

This wisdom came to me this morning on the yoga mat:

You are only responsible for doing your best, not someone else’s best.

Oh how I long for the day when I don’t use other people’s success as a measuring stick for my own.

I’m beginning to think it’s all about falling in love. With your own body.

For years I’ve tried the exercise plans, the “eating more healthy food that tastes suspiciously like grass” plans, the “beating up your body to try to make it comply to your wishes plans”, the “starving yourself so that all you can think about is food, food, and more food” plans.

I think I had it all wrong. I think all these years I’ve been trying to fix my body with the hopes that eventually I’d like it and it would serve me the way I expected to be served. I didn’t ever dare to hope I’d actually love it. That was not only beyond the realm of possibility, it was beyond what I could even give myself permission to think.

Loving my body was just far too wrong, wrong, wrong. The body is the place where sin resides, after all. Loving it would mean that I was making it my idol and putting it ahead of God and that’s just heaping more sin onto an already sinful, disgraceful body. One must force the body into submission, not listen to it or try to understand it. Paying too much attention to it meant allowing it to entertain sinful desires and every sunday school student knows that lust and passion and too many sexual thoughts lead us straight to hell.

No, I mustn’t love it. I mustn’t even think about it much, or touch it tenderly lest it lead me astray.

For too many years I have fought the demons of my past. Guilt and shame and fear of sin have their ways of embedding themselves so far below the surface of our consciousness that even when we think we’ve rooted them out and stomped on them and thrown them out with the trash, their deeply embedded roots just keep growing little sprouts that trip us up when we try to move on and leave them behind.

Perhaps I’ll never fully allow myself to love this weak and flawed body, but I’m trying damn hard. I’m trying to honour it with what it needs, let it move when it wants to move, eat when it wants to eat, sleep when it needs to sleep. I’m trying to touch it tenderly and slather it with lotion when it’s dry and parched. I’m trying to stand naked in front of the mirror more often and whisper “you are beautiful”.

Because I no longer believe that this is sin. I believe this is honouring what God has created and trusting that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that my “body is a temple” where God resides. God wouldn’t make an ugly temple. God wouldn’t want this priestess to loathe the sight of her own temple – the place where she meets God – and never treat it with kindness and respect. Just read through the parts of the old testament where God instructs people in the care and construction of temples and you’ll see how much God values a beautiful, well cared-for temple.

I am forty pounds from what would be considered my “ideal weight” and yet that no longer matters. I haven’t stepped on a scale in months and I don’t plan to. I am finally beginning to love my body and more fully love the God/dess that resides in it and that is all that I need from this journey. I do not need to conform to anyone’s ideals, fit into a certain size of jeans, or accomplish a specific weight loss goal.

This body is beautiful just the way it is. This body is strong enough to run five miles. This body has born four beautiful children and nursed three of them. This body gives my husband pleasure.

This body is ENOUGH.

It’s all about falling in love.

This morning I hopped out of bed before 7:00 a.m. eager to run. (Trust me, hopping out of bed is not standard for me. I’m ┬ámore of a “drag my sorry ass out of bed after hitting the snooze button half a dozen times” type.) I haven’t run since Wednesday, so I was looking forward to it. I don’t run every day, because I think it’s best to give my muscles a bit of a rest and because I’m a little nervous of overdoing it and dealing with shin splints again.

On the days in between, I’m trying do yoga, because I know that I do better work (writing, teaching, etc.) when I add some movement into my day, but I’m not always successful at motivating myself to get on the mat. Plus yesterday was a full day of teaching with art class in the evening, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for movement (except that I usually go for a walk at lunch time).

Back to this morning… I hopped out of bed, dressed in the layers it takes to run outside in Winnipeg in the winter time, got my water bottle and iPod, tied on my shoes and stepped out the door. And that’s about as far as I got.

There was a thin layer of ice over the hard-packed snow. It seems it rained during the night, and the sidewalks were treacherous. Bummer. No point in risking my neck to go for a run.

So I came back inside and sulked a little.

But I was determined to run anyway, so later this morning, Marcel and I went to the local YMCA and I ran just over four miles on the treadmill. And now I’m sweaty and tired, and enjoying that lovely little taste of adrenalin. I’m pretty sure I’ll do some good writing this afternoon.

I don’t like running on the treadmill nearly as much as running outside, for a few reasons. When I’m outside, I am much more mindful and meditative. I am mindful of the way the seasons change, the way the weather affects me, the way the river looks in the morning sun, and the way my feet hit the pavement. It gives me things to look at and a sense of peace that I am alive and well in the world.

The treadmill in a busy gym just doesn’t have the same affect. It’s still good to move, and I’m glad I have that option, but it’s just not the same.

My love affair with running has surprised me. When I tentatively dipped my toe into it last Spring, I thought it would be a short-lived thing like so many of my other attempts at “getting more exercise” or “improving my diet”.

But in the eight months since then, I haven’t stopped. Other than an occasional week when I’ve been traveling or getting a little extra rest because I was afraid of shin splints, I have run three or more times a week. I love it. It’s crazy but it’s true.

On mornings when I know I’ll be running, I wake up happy. I look forward to running. I even fantasize about it sometimes when I’m not doing it. Mostly I run outside, but on mornings when it is impossibly cold outside (like this morning) and I’m afraid I’ll freeze my skin, I run at the gym. I ran nearly five miles this afternoon. That’s the best I’ve ever done.

Running is changing me. It’s helping me connect with my body more. It’s helping me make more space for my wandering thoughts and it’s giving me clarity on some of the things I struggle with. It’s making me more alive, more creative, and more energized about life.

When I run, I’m a better writer, a better teacher, a better mother, and a better wife. When I run, my mind is clearer and my heart feels more settled. When I run, I connect with God and my prayer life improves.

I’m not planning on stopping.

Running is changing me.

Sepia

Heather Plett, runner

At the age of 44, much to my surprise, I became a runner.

I've always been overweight and out of shape, and yet one day, after life-changing breast reduction surgery, I started to run. And then a surprising thing happened - I didn't want to stop.

For me, running is much more than just exercise. It's my primary spiritual practice - prayer, meditation, and a connection with the earth all rolled into one.

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