Breathe in… 2…3…4… breathe out… 2…3…4…
Pay attention to your footfalls, make sure you are landing correctly, breathe and count…
Breathe in deep… fill your lungs… and breathe out the stress and the heaviness.
Over the last few weeks I have been trying to get back into running. A few years ago I discovered that I loved running. I loved being alone with my thoughts, focusing only on how my feet hit the ground and continuing to breathe as I ran far more consecutive miles than I ever would have imagined possible. I even ran a half marathon, which I never would have believed I would be capable of… but, somehow, I was… and actually it wasn’t too bad, I looked forward to doing it again and even started to day dream of the possibility of one day running a full marathon.
In the typical day to day busy-ness of life I hadn’t been able to run much last fall and then this winter I took a bad fall on the ice that left me barely able to hobble along at a walk let alone run any distance. After many months of physical therapy and (mostly) sticking to my stretching and strengthening routine, I finally decided I was brave enough (and trusted my knee enough) to try and get back into my running groove.
I have to say it hasn’t been as easy as I had hoped. In addition to being a little afraid to trust that my knee will indeed hold me up as it is supposed to I also greatly underestimated how very out of shape I am. I started out by running just one minute and then walking for four minutes with the hope that I’d quickly be able to increase the time I spent running. It has been about six weeks and I am still barely able to run for two minutes and walk for three for any longer than about a half hour. Still, as disappointing as that occasionally feels it is reminding me of why I have missed running so much while I was busy healing.
In addition to that feeling of a “runner’s high” after exercising, running also functions for me as a spiritual practice. Being able to be alone with my thoughts, most often outdoors, allows me the space to feel grounded in a way that very few other activities do. Shortly before running my first half marathon I read an article that offered motivation techniques for when you start to get tired and want to quit during long runs. One suggestion that really stuck with me was choosing one person to dedicate each mile to. While running that mile you could meditate on that person and your relationship with them and/or think about how they had supported your running (or life) journey.
I have taken this suggestion to heart and have made it my own. Each time I run I pick a quote, or a line or two from a song, or sometimes a conflict or worry that I am trying to work through and I focus my mind on that. Lately the John Muir quote, “and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” has been the thought that continually leaps to mind. I shared in a recent post that I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and as a result of that location I am surrounded by beautiful forests as well as Lake Superior. It is rarely difficult to find the motivation to run when you are surrounded by such beauty on all sides!
Being able to run alongside Lake Superior as the sun comes up, or to encounter deer and other wildlife (I’m still hoping to see moose or bear eventually!) has reminded me how very small I am in the midst of all creation. But there is something about feeling small in this way that calms and quiets my soul. Somehow feeling small makes things feel better, more manageable, and that is why I run.
Dr. Katie M. Deaver, holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology with an emphasis in Feminist Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is currently an Adjunct Professor at Elmhurst College and lives in Michigan’s beautiful upper peninsula.