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.

“Start running.”

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.

“Start running.”

Thank God.

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.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

You may also like...

17 Responses

  1. Jana says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Oh, my body and I have been through some things. But I am so excited for how strong I’m feeling these days and how I just crave movement. Today I paddled with the family for an hour in the early-morning mist of the Back Bay and then swam for a mile in a nearby pool. All the while, giddy with pleasure.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this post!
    It’s timely for me, too. I’m training for a half-marathon, my first race ever. This race is special for another reason, too because it’s for my kids. We’re raising money for the charity that supports their chronic illness.

    While I enjoy all kinds of exercise and do it regularly (lifting, yoga, pilates, dance, rock climbing), I’ve never been into running for a few reasons but mostly because I don’t like it.

    I’m still in my first few weeks of training and I can’t quite get to the love of it that I have for my other kinds of exercise, but your post has given me encouragement.

  3. amyb says:

    Deborah, this is inspiring. I’m so happy that you have found something that made you feel good, at a soul level. For me, it was yoga. I dedicated a focused year to the practice. At times I cried in the studio, thought I’d never do a backbend or manage a standing twist. Suddenly one day I could do it, then I could do another thing, and another. I learned the value of dedicated persistence. These precious bodies of ours are truly a gift.

  4. Kelly Ann says:

    I joined a gym a year and a half ago. The combination of yoga, core classes, lifting weights, and even climbing has been phenomenally good for me. I haven’t lost any weight but my body has reshaped and I take great pride in the noticeable muscle in my arms. I go through phases where I am more or less dedicated but working out has been great for me. I often go with friends which is particularly rewarding. Therefore working out becomes connected to a lot of other conversations and life events (i.e. I went on a lot of gym dates) which is sometimes depressing to think about but am grateful to say for the most part I am taking better care of my body and that makes me happy.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It is awesome!

  5. sasha says:

    I’m proud and just amazed that someone in our family is a runner! Who would have thought…

  6. Kaimi says:

    Way to go, Deborah. 🙂

  7. Deborah says:

    Jana: You have been such a source of inspiration, watching you embrace rowing this year. Isn’t it good to know that the 30s can still bring us new loves and surprises? Hopefully this will be true of the 40s, 50s, 60s, . . . .

    Jessawhy: The phase “half marathon” sounded painfully absurd to me a month ago, but now it seems like a future possibility. I hope you post about it — and the cause — once you finish!

    Amy: I know we’ve talked about this, but there is something fundamentally spiritual about disciplining and enjoying the body.

    Kelly Ann: Thanks for your thoughts. You know, I tried a gym and couldn’t get myself to do it (I was going alone — that might have been part of the problem). When I gave up my membership (couldn’t justify the unutilized expense), part of me believed I would never enjoy exercising . . . !

    Sarah/Kaimi/Steven: Thanks! 🙂

  8. m&m says:


    My body and I aren’t getting along very well right now. So I appreciate someone else’s inspiring story.

    You go girl!

  9. CatherineWO says:

    I’m with m&m. It’s been a very long time since I was at peace with my body, but I do admire your determination. Congratulations.

  10. Jana says:

    John and I have been talking about how our exercise practice from this last year was impacted and inspired by some of our friends (yes, ECS, shreeney & JohnW, I’m looking at you!). And we are so happy that some of our other friends have been impacted by our successes of the past year. It’s such a thrill to know that we can motivate and inspire each other!

    I love knowing that at 38(!), my body is far healthier and stronger than it was a decade ago. My goal is to keep up paddling so I can enter one of the big Hawaiian outrigger races to celebrate my 40th birthday. 🙂

    This past year has been such a tentative dance with my body–making slow progress, not losing any weight (but a few inches), getting injured when I pushed too hard, etc. It’s a long, hard process to get in shape. But so worth it!

  11. Kathy says:

    I started tai chi 2 years ago to help my junkie knees. I am back to walking and hiking, although running will never be my “thing”. The coolest thing about tai chi has been dipping into some of the eastern philosophies associated with it. If I can steal an idea from “Cafeteria Mormons”, I am enjoying sampling from that particular buffet.

  12. EmilyCC says:

    This post is so wonderful, Deborah! I’ve been going to a gym for about a year now and while I haven’t lost much in the way of weight, my mental health and comfort with the way I look have been unexpected and valuable “side effects.”

  13. mellifera says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m going to put in a word for hula- Anglo culture doesn’t really celebrate the mom body, but hula does it fantastic honor. It doesn’t matter what your build, hula will make you feel beautiful and strong.

  14. Dora says:

    I always enjoy the way my body gets that used-in-a-good-way feel after I come home from a night of dancing … salsa, west coast swing or lindy. There’s a certain luxury in knowing that I’ve used it to be active and creative with another human being, and found old and new ways to move it to the music.

    I also am amazed every time I make it the 10 mile hike from the hilltop to the Havasupai campgrounds, loaded down with my pack. Every time I’ve done it (thrice), I think it may be the last time. And yet, the beauty of the waterfalls draws me back everytime. The colors are so beautiful. The intense red of the rock. The heavenly blue of the sky. The verdant greens of the trees. And the celestial blue of the water. Plus, there is the pride I feel knowing that my body has brought me the distance.

    This year, though I cheated a little. Hiked the 2 miles back to the village, and took the helicopter out. Next time I may take my mother on the mules all the way to the campsites, and show her what I been raving about all these years.

  15. DC says:

    I’m not sure how to contact you, but I’ve been reading some of your comments, and about you and I wanted to ask you about your experience marrying someone of another faith. I’m struggling with the same decision right now, and I have been seeking insight from others who have experienced the same thing. Is there anyway for me to get in touch with you off the blog?

  16. Deborah says:

    Hi, DC! I’d love to chat! I’ll look up your e-mail from wordpress (assuming you entered one when you commented) and shoot you a private mail this weekend. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite interfaith family posts, if you haven’t seen them already:

Leave a Reply to Jana Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.