A little over a year ago, we ran one of our most powerful posts about a rape survivor who was encouraged by a friend to start running. I've continued to stay in touch with the writer, and although she's not ready to go public with her face or name, she continues to find both strength and peace through the rhythm of the road. Here's why she's running these days.
I love, love, love to talk about running. Ask me why I signed up to run a marathon, though, and I don't know what to say.
Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago that I was raped. Sometimes, it's like it was just yesterday. We didn't tell a lot of people after it happened. I went through the legal process, through therapy, and I ran. I ran a lot. That was my outlet. I ran with one friend until she moved out of state, then I ran alone.
When I started running, I ran to escape. To be alone. To run as far away as I could from what happened. I ran to have a place to let down my guard because on the outside, to the rest of the world, I had my act together. I ran to feel my legs carry me away; to be in control of what my body was doing. I ran to ask WHY? WHY? WHY? out loud and to maybe find an answer. I ran to replay what happened in my mind and, this time give it a different ending. And then I’d return home, leaving a little of the past behind me.
Somewhere on one of my runs I made up my mind I was going to run a marathon. I was going to do it to prove a point, prove I'm over it. I had enough anger to fuel me 26.2 miles, that’s for sure. So I signed up for a half marathon to prepare my body. Once I did that, running had a new purpose beyond an emotional outlet. I had to run a certain distance, push myself for different reasons. It was also an eye opener.
Clearly, I wasn't running as fast or as far as I thought I had been those last few years. Still, I muscled through my training, picturing a new woman after I crossed the finish. My past left on the race course, my new me across the finish line, getting a medal with magic healing powers.
But, plain and simple, the half sucked. During the first couple of miles my desire to run from the past unexpectedly overwhelmed me, and I spent the rest of the race fighting terrible feelings. I finished, but suffered through it. I tried to convince myself it was a good race. I ran 13.1 miles, after all. Yay for me!
But my finisher medal didn't have any magic powers. It didn't erase the past. Friends and co-workers were impressed, but I wasn’t. I fell into a brutal slump. I was sad the race wasn't the cure-all I had hoped for, and I was mad at myself for believing it could be. For weeks and weeks I went through the motions of running. Running less often and complaining about it as I went out the door. I faked my way through my weekend runs with a group of new running friends, really going only for the coffee afterward.
As we'd run, I thought about the marathon I still needed to run and why it seemed to be hanging over me. I thought about the women I met in a support group that I went to. I wondered if they found peace and had moved on. I wondered if I could find peace and move on too--or if I could reach the goal I set for myself.
Running slumps stink, but I'm learning they're part of the cycle, regardless of what drives you to run. I ran through mine because I knew I needed running to sustain me, even though I felt like it failed me. Gradually, my not-so-great runs began to lift me up again, thanks, in part to the group of eight women, give or take a few, I usually run with now. We're good together: We talk, laugh, and enjoy the silence as well. Running still brings me the healing my mind, body, and soul continue to need, but instead of it just being an emotional grind, now I actually enjoy it.
When registration opened for the marathon, four of us signed up together (and it wasn’t even me who initiated the idea). Soon our running lives seemed to swing into high gear. We signed up for shorter, fun races, including a half that left me feeling redeemed and lucky to have found such a great group of women. Right now, we’re in the middle of training. There have been highs and lows for each of us, but always boundless support for each other. So much better than going it alone like I used to. I haven’t found the right time to tell them why I started running, but maybe, with more miles under our collective feet, I might.
I'm still trying to prove something by running the marathon. I know I can't run away from the past, but at least I know I'm running out from under the weight of it. No matter how my marathon turns out, I am proud to be among the ranks of runners, who know that nothing provides clarity like a good run; nothing replaces insecurities with strength like a run can; and not much beats running with strong women.
I can't wait for my 26.2.