How My Body Got Her Groove Back
The Year That Was took a toll on my body. I could talk about weight gain – 15 pounds in fewer months. But it was more than flabby arms that plagued me. Broken bones, misfiring hormones. I felt increasingly out of touch with my body, trapped by its clumsy fumblings, its salt and sugar cravings, its fatigue. It didn’t feel like Me.
I started with the sugar. On June 12, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “This has to stop.” On June 13, I cleared the fridge and cupboards of everything processed, everything refined – and stocked it again with fruit, nuts, and fruit.
My husband, also recovering from the losses and stresses of the year, quickly fell into a daily exercise routine. Within days, he began to say: “I’m thinking more clearly,” and “I feel like I’m waking up.”
I had more trouble. I’d step on his elliptical and step off 15 minutes later, bored, exhausted, discouraged.
What finally tripped the switch? I often think of Mary Oliver’s lines:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
For months, I had been “falling down in the grass,” breathing out prayers, searching for help feeling peace again. On August 1st, I woke up to the thought, “Start running.”
Really. Months of prayer on a list of pressing subjects. And this thought – separate from unanswered queries about children, career, relocation – graffitied itself on my brain.
So I picked up the phone and called a friend; she was also an unlikely runner who had recently completed her first 5K. A 5K! How forbidding, how exciting, how far far far out of my reach.
She invited me to join her at the track at 5:30 am, three days a week. (Yes, you can still see Orion at that hour.) After hanging up the phone, I posted on Facebook “I have decided to train for a 5K. I have never run more than a couple of miles consecutively. But now I’ve said it out loud, so I have to do it, right?”
I bought shoes. I plugged in my iPod. I ran a song, walked a song. Eight days later, I flew to Utah to visit my dad on his birthday. In the thin mountain air, I decided to jog the two miles from my mom’s house to the Salt Lake City Cemetery. As the hills climbed, my jog slowed to walking speed and my lungs burned, but I ungently prodded my body with, “Don’t you dare stop – this is for dad,” until finally, legs shaking and head pounding, I fell down beneath the juniper tree that shades him. My body succeeded in carrying me to this place. I wept and hugged the grass and felt my heart beat.
Yesterday, I ran my first 5K. Three-hundred-eighty-six people – ages 5 to 83 – crowded onto a tree-lined street in New Jersey. Sixty-three degrees. Leaves floating down. Bruce Springstein blaring from the speakers. Seemed like everyone was smiling, like I had joined a secret community of happy, spirited souls.
The surprise is, I’m good at running. I’ve never really played sports, never had a regular exercise program. But I’m good at this. Good at moving one foot in front of the other, at breathing rhythmically, at gasping at the beauty of the dawn as I’m circling the track. Running hasn’t just helped me make peace with my body: I *love* her now. Love the way I can feel my lungs hours after a run. Love stripping sweaty clothes off of my limbs. Love that these legs can jump and twirl and move with increasing speed toward the horizon. And I am in awe at the swiftness of this emotional transformation.
We often talk — especially as women, it seems — about struggling to “make peace” with our bodies. But when have you felt more than “a truce” — felt a sudden love, or a gratitude, or respect for your organs and limbs? Inspire me.