gift of strength

This December, as we’re constantly looking for the Scotch tape and scissors, we’re sharing a series of essays that reflect on less tangible presents that are always worthy of celebration and gratitude. We’re starting with an essay from BAMR Jacki Correll on the gift that keeps on giving: strength.

My main motivation for climbing out of a warm bed in the predawn hours of a cold and snowy Christmas morning (other than a strong cup of coffee with peppermint creamer) is watching my family, all clad in cheesy holiday pajamas, tear into their beautifully wrapped packages to delight in the gifts I’ve spent so much time choosing for each of them. 

Their joy is my gift, one that I can unwrap over and over in my memory, which is why my packages usually sit untouched under the tree until someone forces one into my hands. The best gifts say things like: “I see you” or “I appreciate you” or “I thought you could use this.” And while I will always treasure the handmade MOM mugs, the runner’s cookbook with a touching inscription, and the smartwatch I never would’ve bought for myself but now can’t live without, the gift I’d really like to open is strength. 

Strength makes a great gift because it always comes with bonus offers and freebies. “We hope you are enjoying your recently acquired strength. As a thank you, here’s 10% off your next marathon time or enjoy 25% off your Perceived Rate of Effort the next time you run that monster hill in your neighborhood.”

If you listen closely as you shake that giftbox, you’ll hear that strength sounds a lot like that enthusiastic infomercial guy who is zealously trying to sweeten the deal: “With your investment in strength you’ll not only get more miles with fewer injuries, you will ALSO receive greater stability AND mobility as you age!  BUT WAIT, there’s MORE: Act now and we’ll throw in a lifetime supply of a lower risk of heart disease PLUS a decreased chance of diabetes! Operators are standing by.” 

Unfortunately, strength can’t be bought by dialing a 1-800 number or clicking “add to cart”, even by your most thoughtful loved one. You have to gift strength to yourself.

For as much time and thought as I put into gifts for others, I tend to drop the ball on treating myself. My gift to me for 2021 was a bit of an impulse buy, grabbed last minute on a cold, sullen New Years Eve 2020. Without too much thought and fueled by a hunger for something I could count on in an ever changing Pandemic world, I gifted myself the goal of running the year in kilometers (or 1,256 miles), figuring if 1,000 miles of running boosted my mental health in 2020, another 256 miles would be even better. 

I forgot that impulse buys are rarely healthy or satisfying choices, which is why last Christmas morning found me downing several ibuprofen with my peppermint coffee and wincing as I opened what I imagined to be a banged-up cardboard box full of peeled-off physio tape, empty tubes of icy hot, and a hefty rock labeled “REGRET 2,021 kms.”

During that final week of 2021, I paged back through my running journal, noticing phrases like: “some miles were junk” and “this mileage goal is kind of sucking the joy out of running”, which were making appearances as early as August. By October of that year, I was pushing off strength workouts in favor of getting my miles in, and noting that, “my knees hurt, my legs are tired, and I’m ready to be done with 2021.” 

I went to bed on New Year’s Eve that year dreaming of opening my perfect gift: A large, shiny red box tied with a silver satin bow, which, when I lifted the lid, was stuffed full of STRENGTH in big, bold letters. In my dream, I couldn’t wait to take my new strength out for a test run, but I woke in a cold sweat when I noticed three dreaded words on the label: “Some assembly required.”

gift strength

Jacki as her own Secret Santa with some strength.

I’ve spent all of 2022 building that perfect gift: curl after kickback, bridge pose after boat pose, day by day. I’m measuring my progress this year in minutes of strength training, not miles run, and it has been challenging at times to stay in this mindset. Just last week I caught myself doing mileage math, trying to calculate how many miles I’d need to cram into each of the remaining weeks of the year to hit 1,000 miles by New Years Eve, but when I realized I’d have to cut out a chunk of my strength workouts to make time for those miles, I remembered how many bonus offers and freebies I’ve enjoyed this year as a result of putting my strength work first. 

Most notably, I had my first injury-free training cycle ever and was able to run all of the hills on a mountainous half marathon course this past fall. I still can’t do more than 2 on-my-toes push-ups, but I know the best part about strength is, as long as I continue to build it, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.