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Being Present during the Tough Times to Live Profoundly during the Joyful Times

I’ve been trying to figure out how to process this all. Over the past year I have learned various lessons that remind me to be present during the tough times. Here’s the most recent and benign example. Yesterday, I set out for a 12 mile run. I had been sick the day before because I tried a new energy drink mix after eating all day that did not sit well with my stomach. I texted my running sister and told her I couldn’t make Saturday’s run. We went back and forth and in the end we were going! I was good up until about mile 9, my previous week’s peak. We continued to run and then started encountering a few rolling hills. My legs felt like tree trunks and did not want to lift themselves. My running sister literally had to hold my hand to make me keep up the pace during these times. People were staring and I know I was making the ugliest “I can’t” face ever, but I kept moving. I wanted to accomplish this goal. She believed in me, I had to believe in me. I started thinking I no longer wanted to be a runner. Screw the half marathon coming up in 2 weeks. Then it kicked in, I hadn’t fully understood the notion that running is mental until this moment. When you THINK your body wants to give out the mind truly has to take control and keep you moving. As my sis pointed out…my breathing was fine so I was fine. Honestly, my lungs felt pretty darn good. By mile 10.5/11 I was good again!

Here’s the real point I’m trying to make though. The run might be over now, but this was a huge accomplishment for me that I deserve to relish in and brag about for however long I want. I couldn’t fully recognize its value if I wasn’t present and in tune with myself, all of the emotions, negative self talk, positive self talk, physical pain in various areas of my body that was happening at that moment. Now, I’m home writing this blog, chatting with a friend, and watching a sermon online and I’m fine. In retrospect, yeah, I can do 12 miles again. It’s done, it’s accomplished, and I can rave about it. The adrenaline rush has worn off, but I sit with so many lessons. If I wasn’t present in that moment, I couldn’t fully appreciate having accomplished it. This helps me better understand the Buddhist notion that struggle and joy need each other. Running has become the analogy for so many other things in life for me now. Below are a few examples of how this idea transfers to additional scenarios.

Family: Without seeing my family ill, struggling through the process of not being the one in control, praying for their improvement and just experiencing overall vulnerability and uncertainty, I would not have this deep appreciation for their present recovery and roles they have played and continue to play in my life. Even when we are not facing tough times with family, we need to be present and not take them for granted.

Relationships: I have been single for a while. There are times I relish in this single-hood and times when I wonder when I’ll meet a companion who just feels right. I know the moment is going to come when I’m in a loving relationship and things are “blissful.” Ha! Well, not always. I also realize that these relationships can easily lose their meaning when it just becomes a routine or a given. Being reflective these years, months, days and counting leading up to this point (to come) can help me engage this relationship (to come) with fervor and value the journey.

Work, School, Finance: Right now I am able to live a decent life. Though I may complain about all of the work and wanting more money for vacations, I’m good. I know there will be a day when I am done with school. I know there will be a day when I may have a bit more financial security and control over my work. Again, being present throughout the process helps me recognize my needs in these areas, why I deserve certain wants, and how to use what I have attained for the benefits of others.

I guess the underlying message that I am struggling with putting into words is that once we have what we want it can often lose its zest. If we remember the process it took to get where we want to be, it allows us to enjoy these moments profoundly and continue to strive for increased joy. Sankofa.

5 Ways Running is Saving my Life…So Far

So I would say I’ve been more consistently running for the past 1.5 months. I know I know, that hasn’t been that long, but I can feel it…I’m a runner! Every year, I start running and I say “I want to be a runner,” but then I slack off. I’ve struggled with this because I found that when it came to certain things in my life, i.e. fitness, chores, I’m never consistent. That has all changed now and I can officially say, “I’m a runner!” I’ve learned so much about myself in this 1.5 months of running and it’s changed me in some serious ways. Below are 5 ways running has changed my life.

1. My skin is clearing up. I know this is a bit on the superficial side y’all, but it’s serious for me. I’ve been battling adult acne for a while. About 3 months ago I went to a dermatologist and we went through a few rounds of topical medications. One minute I thought it was helping, the next it wasn’t, and so on. I kept getting these cystic pimples. Anywho, I completely eliminated gluten from my diet and that helped a lot. Then I started running. Right around my period I did not get those cystic pimples and my pore size may even be decreasing. I think it’s because the sweating is really purging whatever bacteria’s been sitting up in there, the natural way. I also truly think it’s because of my increased water intake as well, which brings me to number 2.

2. improved nutrition, just because…I remember seeing a post somewhere that said “Athletes Eat and Train, They Don’t Diet and Exercise.” This is so true. I’ve been on a journey towards better nutrition for the last 2-3 years. I started listening to my body and learning about various intolerances. I was so sluggish so something had to change. Once I began consistently training for this half marathon I noticed that my food choices became even more lax and all I had to do was listen to my body. If I wanted a bowl full of gluten free pad thai, I could eat it. I trusted that my body needed this for fuel and haven’t felt crappy after. A lot of foods don’t even appeal to me anymore. i.e. gluten or fried chicken, well, maybe sometimes…The thing about it is I know how certain foods will make me feel sluggish when running so I don’t even want it. The BIGGEST thing is I’m forced to hydrate more so I’m hoping I’m finally getting a sufficient daily water intake.

3. My mental and spiritual strength is going through the roof! Haha, maybe I’m exaggerating, but so much is happening with my mind and soul. I’ve been on this journey, really reflecting, getting to know myself, and what God seeks to manifest through me. Running has seriously taken this to the next level. Over the past year God has truly been showing me my strength. Running is now the icing on the cake. I realize that all of those other years when I tried to become a runner, I just wasn’t ready yet. Another quote I saw somewhere, “your body will only go as far as your mind.” It’s so true. After every milestone I make as a runner, I have renewed faith that my body can go even further. Whereas before, I thought of 3 miles, 6 miles, and 13.1 miles as impossible. I looked around at other runners and thought I could never run like them. Well, yeah, I can never run like them and I’m ok with that. I can only run like me. I now understand “my race, my pace” and I’m ok with that. It actually gets me through those runs when I think I can’t go any further. Seeing how much I can push myself in running has translated into other areas in my life. i.e. the fact that I always dread cleaning. Well, I still do, but I’m a bit more motivated to get it done now. Mentally, I no longer think it will take forever. I just have to start and know that I will FINISH.  It’s the same with running. Now if only I can apply that to grading papers and writing this here dissertation.

4. A renewed sense of community. I’ve been feeling a communal void for a few years now. I’ve felt like I lack a sense of truly belonging to any particular community. I’ve known that I need to take steps to become deeply invested in a meaningful community, (outside of the broader education world) and I’m working on it. When I consistently started running though I felt like the community found me or rather I more naturally let my guard down and found the running community. Thank God for Black Girls Run. While I’m not even super active, (working on that), their mere existence has given me a sense of belonging. How people refer to each other as “sis” or “sole sister” is truly endearing. The fact that every running level is embraced and supported, is a beautiful thing. There’s also the broader running community. Moments when I speak with colleagues about running or random people on the train. And let’s not forget the cyber running the community. Thank you for giving me a sense of belonging!

5. Freedom! This is a biggie for me. It makes me think back to a virtual dialogue I had with one of my mentors a couple of weeks back (I don’t think she knows I consider her a mentor), but she framed it quite simply. She prioritizes running for her health and to keep her sane. I’ve really been shifting my perspective over the past year and this truly resonates. When I go out to run I allow myself to spend as much time as it takes and schedule everything around this. I know it’s a privilege, but why shouldn’t I have it for ME. As a Black woman, I’ve been programmed to have this superwoman syndrome, and anything that focuses on my betterment is seen as selfish. Well, I’m over that. I only have one life to live and I’m putting me first…I know my efforts come from a good place. I love my parents and am deeply invested in education. I have nothing to prove to anyone else. Overall, this aligns with the way I approach life more and more. I’m ok with saying “no” when it doesn’t seem right. True friends/colleagues/fam will understand. Running allows me to focus on me. It reminds me that I’m ok being single because there are so many things I can do to invest in myself and when the right partner comes along I’ll be ready to bring MYSELF. Lastly, running has pushed me to take (even) more risks. I’ve done and accomplished a lot in my short time on earth, but I want to do so much more. I found myself in a rut for a while where I was waiting for life to happen, but all I have is now. So I’m getting out there and doing what intrigues me. That means, I’m going on a runcation in Jamaica in December by myself! No, I did not wait for other people to confirm that they can join me. I’m all booked and ready to go! Because I can! I’m counting my blessings!