A few months ago, Runner’s World called. They’re doing a monthly street style feature, they said. Would I be interested?
I immediately SWOONED and fell out of my chair. A few smelling salts later, I responded: YES. For me, this is better than Vogue.
I’ve always been runner – I was born into a family of runners. Some of my earliest memories involve cheering on the sidelines as my mom (or my Dad) ran by. I played dress-up with my mom’s medals. This was the era of tall striped socks, short shorts and sweatbands. Runner’s World Magazine was always on our coffee table.
As I got older, I’d ride my bike while my parents ran. Dad would come home early from work – “Get your bike!” he’d say, and off we’d go. We’d chat about our day, our lives, as he huffed and puffed next to me, helping to push me up the hills.
Eventually, I started running – Cross-Country in high school, running barefoot on the beach all summer long, or through piles of snow on Christmas morning (my own personal Christmas tradition). But it wasn’t until I was able to run faster than my mom that I truly felt like a runner. Mom and I had gone out for a jog together, but instead of stopping at our usual spot….we both simultaneously pressed on. There was an unspoken acknowledgment of Game ON. We ran faster and faster, our usual chatter and laughter absent. I kicked into racing mode – the one where my brain shuts down, the pain gets fuzzy, and the only thing I hear is the pounding of my own feet.
After many, many minutes of this nonsense (on an otherwise lovely Saturday afternoon!) my Mom gave in. She stopped, laughing. “OK!!” she said, “I GIVE!!”. We cracked up, and immediately flopped down on the ground, exhausted.
It was official – I was a Runner. All grown up.
Over the years I’ve run off and on. Sometimes simply because running is so darn efficient – such a good workout in so little time for this busy Mama – but more often than not, I run because it clears my mind. Running is sanity saving. When my mom got breast cancer, I ran. When I had a miscarriage, I ran. When my grandmother passed away, I ran. When Mike and I get into an argument or the kids are driving me nuts or I’m stressed about work or sad about my Dad’s fight with dementia…I run.
And when I faced my own breast cancer diagnosis two years ago, I ran. Running, along with acupuncture and yoga, helped me get through those awful months of chemotherapy. The chemo broke me down at every level – physically and emotionally. I was exhausted in a way sleep could not cure, tired to my very aching bones. My toes would go numb, and thanks to the steroids, I struggled with depression. When I moved too fast, my muscles would burn. Climbing upstairs could bring me to my knees.
I was angry. I was sad. This gray-faced, exhausted, bald person who could barely climb stairs? Who was she? This horrible mother who slept all day and had no patience and had forgotten how to play? That couldn’t be me! I found myself completely unrecognizable, my life in some sort of other twilight-zone dimension.
So I did the one thing I always do. I ran.
Running after chemo treatments is an awful, terrible thing. In fact, the word “running” barely applies – “plodding” is a much truer description. Each leg weighed a ton; I often felt like I was running through water. My lungs and legs would burn as if I were in an all-out sprint. I would run for a few minutes, then stop and walk, crying in anger and sadness and frustration. In my head I would write giant, angry missives about the unfairness of life. The total bullshit that is a cancer diagnosis to someone in their 30s. I would run, then walk, then cry, then rant in my head.
And then I’d run again.
Despite the exhaustion, running helped me realize something: That burning sensation in my muscles and lungs? Chemo at work, sure, but my muscles and lungs were also burning because I was still alive. They were burning because I was running, because I could still run. They were burning because they were fighting back. I was fighting back.
Chemo felt like death. Running – even my plodding along – felt more like life.
Since then, I have continued to run. Off and on, sometimes getting frustrated at my lack of progress. Years ago, it didn’t matter how often I had run, I could always dash off an easy 5 miles. Those days are long gone. The breast cancer treatments have changed my body in fundamental ways, my energy levels haven’t completely recovered, and running is still really, really hard. To quote my oncologist, “if you really want to run again….you’re going to have to fight for it.”
Fighting is what I do.
So now, I put on my shoes and turn on the Nike running app (which manages to find nice things to say after even a dismal day), and I run. For many months, I’d run a mile. Just a mile. My lungs would burn and my legs would burn, but I had been down this road before, so it was OK. Recently, I was able to get to two miles. So now that’s what I do. I run two miles. Just two. And my lungs still burn a little and my legs still burn a little but this is now a very familiar story and they burn with the burn of fighting a good fight. They burn with life.
Runner’s World, I am so honored and humbled to be featured in a magazine I have literally been reading my entire life. Thank you – so much – for the feature.
All photography by the insanely talented Chris Sembrot Photography. Chris, I had so much fun with our impromptu, in-the-rain shoot.
If you are interested, I rounded up a few of the pieces featured in the shoot (many are long gone, but the ones I could find are below). Not included in the shopping widget are my Nike Black & White Warm-Up Pants and Raines’ Geofox apparel sleeveless hoodie.