Run Free (For Me)

When it comes to running, I consider myself a “late bloomer”.  Throughout school, I considered academics my athletics and would do what I could to avoid physical activity.

As I got older and graduated from college, I would start (and stop) exercise routines.  Walking, cycling, 30 day arms/abs/plank-you name it, I started it.  These routines would never last, and they ALWAYS felt like a workout.  I wasn’t enjoying myself thus hating the activity.  I would continually repeat the cycle, eventually turning to food to deal with my frustration and disappointment.

During my student teaching, a group of girls and myself signed up for our local Race for the Cure.  I was going to WALK a 5k!  I remember feeling like we were never going to stop walking.  How long was a 5k anyway?  Reaching the finish line, I just wanted to eat and take a nap.  After devouring a breakfast burrito, I slept the entire day and was sore for days to follow.  To say it was the most physical activity I’d done in years would be an understatement.

Pressing fast forward, I was loving my teaching career and had found a somewhat solid healthy relationship with food, but something was missing.  Now, I’m the type of person who, once I set my sights on doing something, I will do almost any and everything to make it happen.  I wanted to be that person who could say “I ran a 5k!”

In the summer of 2017, I decided I was going to train for and RUN a 5k.  It was going to be that same Race for the Cure that I’d done years earlier.  With the help of runner friends and Couch to 5k, I had a plan and a program that worked for me.  I didn’t have to run out of the gate.  I could walk, jog, and run for small chunks of time.  It was absolutely life changing.  I looked forward to my running days.  I caught runners’ high and couldn’t get enough of it.  That Race for the Cure, however, was not my first (or last) 5k.

Thanks to a persuasive aunt who put on a yearly run for prostate cancer, my first running 5k a month sooner than I’d anticipated.  Of course, I had a goal time in mind.  I wanted to finish in under 45 minutes, but I mostly just wanted to cross the finish line running.  Making the final turn, I had the finish line in my sights, “I Lived” by OneRepublic blaring in my headphones, I ran…and crossed the finish line at 36 minutes.  Smiling, tears streaming down my face, my cheerleader/mom grabbed me and immediately asked what I’d hurt.  She’d assumed I sustained an injury.  I was crying because I’d done it!  At that moment, I knew I was in love with running.

Forget running one 5k.  I wanted to run one race a month.  I did do that Race for the Cure, and let me tell you, those 3.1 miles go by a bit faster when you’re running.  I’d found exercise that didn’t feel like exercise.  I looked forward to lacing up my Brooks and pounding the pavement or treadmill.  I was addicted to running and could not imagine my life without it…

A year later, however, my life without running became an ugly reality.  One June day, I was hit with a crippling migraine that had me on the couch, under a blanket, with the lights off.  This had happened before and could be remedied with darkness, silence, and sleep, but when I woke up the next day, the migraine remained.  Nothing helped.  Nothing made it go away.  Oh how my heart wanted to run, but my head just wouldn’t allow it.  On days when the pain was less, I could go a few miles walking/running, but it didn’t feel the same.

I was a regular at my doctor’s office that summer.  I turned down multiple summer adventures with friends, downplaying the severity of my “headache”.  I was supposed to be training for my first half marathon.  Putting that on hold, broke my heart.  I couldn’t function.  I knew what would make me feel better, but I couldn’t run like I wanted to-free.

An MRI revealed white spots on my brain, thinning can be associated with MS.  While waiting for a neurology appointment, I was preparing to return to work, starting a new grade level, and wondering if my entire life was going to be turned upside down even more.

Thankfully, more tests and scans revealed nothing.  Yes it was frustrating not to have a reason for these daily migraines, but the relief of not having an MS diagnosis far outweighed that frustration.  We had a plan of attack, one that would slowly return me to my old, running self.

These days, my migraines are less frequent and less severe.  Last fall, I completed my first half and am training for my first full marathon this fall.  Each time I pull on my running shoes and lace them up, I know what a blessing it is.  Finish times, splits, age group standings, things I’d become obsessed with no longer mattered.  My life without running made me realize how much I needed it as an expression in my life.  For a brief period of time, the thing I loved most, my escape, was a question mark.  Now, I’m no longer afraid to call myself a “runner”.  Each run, I run free.

Written by RLAG Ambassador: Chelsea Espinosa

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