This is the third post in a new bi-monthly column: Room on the Road by Denise Dollar, who you might know as the founder of Heart Strides. She is in the process, as many of us are, of struggling with body issues as she finds her way back to running.
In 2013, when I first started running, I didn’t think about what brand of shirt I wore, or how my capris looked. I didn’t know anything about hydration belts or body glide… well, I could’ve stood to know about Body Glide. But I was moving and I was fine. I was more than fine.
My miles were dictated by how much free time I had rather than how many I could do. I would give myself 60-90 mins and just go with no expectations. I never thought too much about pace, I was just so excited to be out there, because to me, if you ran, you were a runner. I was a runner. If only my PE teacher could see me now.
After a few months of running on local trails, I signed up for a race. I chose a Disney race as my first half-marathon, solely based on my desire to be a part of a team that was fundraising for a cure for Type 1 diabetes, a disease that my son Logan was diagnosed with in 2005.
After his diagnosis, there was too much to do, too much to think about. My mind was constantly preoccupied with carb counts and how many units of insulin to inject into his body. My mantra became I am his pancreas. I have to keep him alive.
Eight years later, I found the trail under my feet. We had recently moved from Wisconsin to Colorado…when in Rome. I discovered a trail nearby—not too hard here in Boulder—that went by a small lake, which was still big enough to sooth my soul. I was missing the Milwaukee lakefront.
I loved those first few weeks of running. I pulled up in the parking lot, stepped out of my car breathing in fresh air and sunshine. I started my warm up around the lake. Never doubting that I belonged amongst the seasoned runners and dog walkers, I covered 1.2 miles each loop, passing runners along the way, no doubt irritating the heck out of them with overzealous Midwestern hello’s. Finishing up the second loop, I was ready for the more technical trail; there was no wrong path to take.
While I ran, my mind cleared— a strange phenomenon—making room for thoughts I had long ago pushed aside. What if Logan has too many highs? Too many lows? What if he loses a leg? His sight? What if he gets depressed? Is he depressed? Will he ever find someone to be his partner in life? Will he need an organ transplant? What if his blood sugar goes too low and he dies in his sleep?
I couldn’t give him my pancreas.
I couldn’t trade places with him.
I couldn’t give him the carefree childhood he deserved.
But I could do one thing for him: I could run.
Fast forward to race day. I ran through the Magic Kingdom, zig-zagging through tutus and mouse ears, passing groups of runners who, likely were appalled by my lack of costume (black capris and a plain shirt, my only accessory was a button that read, “I Run for Fun”).
What the heck am I doing here? I thought to myself. I am running for a cure. I am running for my health. I am running for my life. For his life. I can’t give Logan all the things I want to give him, but I can show him that I will never give up. I can do the hard things. He can do the hard things.
Sometime after seeing Phineas and Ferb, my husband and I were texting back and forth. I missed my seeing my family the previous time, but I wasn’t going to miss them this time. We are on the left side, on the corner. I think we see you! Tears. Lots of tears. I stopped dead in my tracks, walking toward them, runners swerving around me. I didn’t need to know why I was running. The reason was right in front of me.
After the Disney finish line, I was fired up. I filled the rest of the year with two more half-marathons, a 10K, and topped it off with 100 miles on my bike, my first century. Hands down, it was one of the best years of my life.
A little over a year later, after running the 2015 Colfax Half-Marathon in Denver, I was closing in on a rut. I hunkered down into extended rest. Part of me craved the physical rest, but I still struggled with my lifelong battle of keeping off weight. The more I wanted to rest, the more I felt guilty, the more I made bad food choices.
I also started working again—a welcome change—but it disrupted my schedule. My husband’s schedule also changed, so our morning runs together stopped. Logan was getting ready for middle school, and there were a gazillion other reasons why life just demanded more of my attention. I had a hard time figuring it out.
I convinced myself that once he was settled into middle school, I would find a way to get back out there. But he started school, and one day morphed into one week, one week morphed into one month, one pound morphed into six, my brain getting clogged with less helpful thoughts every day. I can lose this no problem, once I get back to my running schedule. I just need a little more time. I want a little more time. Wait, I want a lot more time.
I went from feeling completely free to completely restricted. Running felt like a chore, another thing on my list, something I had to do to lose weight. I knew what I had to do to make a change, but I somehow I couldn’t do it.
Running, which used to make me feel so wide open, was now suffocating me.
Running, like losing weight, seemed to be something I did, not something I maintained.
The break, for all intents and purposes, has lasted for the past 18 months.
Almost daily, I wake up and swear that today would not only be a new day, but the day. I promised myself that if I just got out there for 30 minutes, I would get back on track.
When those 30 minutes were nowhere to be found, I gave up without a fight. Which was totally scary: Where was that badass woman who had such clarity about her son’s health, ran half-marathons, then rode a century?
What I do know is that I don’t have to stay here forever. I don’t have to be fast to be a runner. I don’t have to be thin to be strong. I don’t have to be anything but me. I don’t have to go far, but I do have to go.
As we head into the holiday season, a time filled with joyful chaos and great opportunities for stress eating. I am setting achievable goals for myself. Right now, my primary goals are to have fun, enjoy food again, and move EVERY day, a minimum of 30 minutes. When I want to go longer, I will; there is nothing more urgent than good health.
Because I’m working my way back, I am going to start with a 5K, then a 10K and then see where I am. I want to sink into every stride, embrace it, and not be in such a hurry. I want to feel a strength in a 5K, instead of feeling wiped out in a half.
As I focus on those small goals, I have a sneaky suspicion that things will fall into place. Sometimes you have to take your eye off the ball—or the size of your hips, which I’ve been inspecting, btw, as I write this column—to find your groove.