Saturday, August 29, 2009

Running on Empty

"Father forgive me for I have sinned. It's been 8 months and 4 days since my last run." So begins my prayer of penitence to Adidas and the other Gods of my favorite form of exercise. For years I have faithfully laced up my shoes, but now they sit dejected, rejected on a lonely closet shelf. And it's time for me to do some serious sole searching.

We're not the most likely trio, me and those shoes. At just barely 5 foot 2, I lack the long, lithe limbs of a true runner, and I spent much of my childhood in either proper patent leather, scholarly saddle shoes, or stark white summer sandals. And then there was the food. Like most middle easterners, Egyptians tend to show their love on a platter, garnished with fresh parsley and a side of hummus. We celebrate, mourn, laugh, and cry with heaping helpings of kebabs, kofta, and baklava. So for decades I struggled with my weight (The year I spent studying in Paris and my friendship with an aspiring pastry chef didn't help matters), carrying "baby fat" and all the baggage that went with it well into my teens and young adult years.
Then sometime in the grad school era I finally hit my stride. Maybe it was the fresh California air, maybe it was living where no one from my "fat past" knew me, or maybe it was just my time to run. But a few tentative steps down the path eventually turned into miles at a time.. and I was hooked. In the nearly 15 years since, my shoes and I have logged thousands of miles together, partners both literal and emotional journeys. When love blossomed and when they failed, I ran. When cancer came calling close to home, I ran. In sun, rain and wind (but not snow- I am Egyptian, after all) I ran. Down foreign and domestic streets, across 5K, 10K and even marathon finish lines, I ran. Even through pregnancy, I ran.... OK, I waddled, but in my mind, I was still running!

Less than 4 weeks after our first child's arrival I was back to my pavement pounding ways. The road was slow and painful at first, but within a few months my shoes and I right back where we left off. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky the second time around. Baby Cecilia is now two and a half months old and every night I go to bed thinking "Maybe tomorrow will be the day," but when I wake up those shoes still stare at me from their corner of the closet, and I stare back, neither of us willing or able to make the first move.
"Just do it!" says my husband, unaware that this makes a far better marketing slogan than motivational speech.
"Get a jogging stroller or a treadmill!" says a well-meaning but non-running friend. We have a treadmill in the basement, but since I already feel like I spend my days running in circles, running in place is not exactly an enticing option. And I have a jogging stroller as well. Noah and I logged countless miles with it, but I can't say I ever truly enjoyed the feeling of pushing it down the street and over the hills. Or the tether the manufacturer installed, just to make sure I don't let go of my grasp on motherhood. Besides, I'd need a double jogging stroller now and there's just no room in the garage, or in my life, for such a contraption.
I can't pinpoint exactly what's holding me back, aside from the obvious lack of time or energy. With one child I was able to run right over those hurdles, but now I feel paralyzed. Is it the fear of failure? The demons of a chubby childhood returning to haunt? Or is it the deep, dark irrational fear that creeps in late at night- that feeling of being trapped in a life I still don't quite recognize, the fleeting feeling that if given the chance I may start running and never come back?
As much as I love my babies, I'm learning that motherhood is no easy road, especially when it means taking an abrupt detour from the life and the self you spent years building. Much like finding the right pair of running shoes, until I find that elusive balance between Mom and Not Mom there are bound to be painful blisters along the way. So please forgive me, merciful Gods of the Run. I promise to say 10 Hail Nike's and drink a gallon of Holy Gatorade if you'll just give me the strength to put those shoes back on, and give me back this one small part of what makes me feel like me. I just wish it was as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.

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