Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, running was my life. I know that is a pretty cliched saying, that “ABCDE is my life,” but in all seriousness, strapping on my pair of Brooks and hitting the pavement was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, the image that replayed in my mind while sitting in class, and the last mental cue that popped up in my brain before falling asleep at night.
My high school boyfriend joked that I’d be one of “those” mothers who would lace up her sneakers until the day she was in labor and a few weeks later would be out pushing around an all-terrain jogging stroller at Ala Moana Park. Small talk with family and friends revolved around the latest running news, and more often than not acquaintances would gawk at my twig-like legs and state with awe, “Wow, still running I see! What is it? Did you do four marathons already?”
During college I worked part-time at a running shoe store, where I was able to test run the newest styles, measure people’s feet, and fit them with appropriate sneakers. I felt a LITTLE like Al Bundy, retying shoes for customers and passing them the box of try on socks, but to me, being in the store was Heaven on earth.
Outwardly I was a devoted athlete, doing fartleks and tempo runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, incorporating long, slow distances on the weekends, and signing up for every local race I could. Adorned in Nike shorts and finisher t-shirts, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a “runner.”
But inwardly, running was dangerous. Physically, cardiovascular exercise is tremendous for the body–it helps keep the heart healthy and protects it from disease and degeneration. But like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes, well, dangerous. When my obsession with accumulating miles and trying to be faster and faster with every run morphed into me losing 15 pounds from my already small frame, running became dangerous. However, despite my body’s need for fuel and rest (two things I never gave it during my stint in long-distance racing), I neglected to see the folly of my actions, and instead focused on the immediate gratification I got from completing a cool ten miles. Running was my drug of choice, yet at the time I was blind to how the pavement pounding and wind in my face could be such a detrimental addiction.
I remember the first time I ran three miles with my high school cross country team. The feeling of my legs hitting the grass in the Manoa neighborhood and the blood rushing through my thighs was exhilarating. But what was even better was the endorphin rush at the end, the feeling of calmness and (oddly enough) tranquility in my bones that came when I collapsed on the ground with my friends to stretch and chatter about the short training jaunt. Back then, three miles felt like an eternity. During the run I even contemplated turning back early, as all I could think was that there was no way I’d be able to make it to the turn around point and then retrace my steps to campus without hyperventilating.
Flash forward a few years, and three miles was my warm up. I was up to an easy ten miles a day, clicking away at a 8 minute or less pace.
Ten. Miles. A. Day. Every. Day.
Well, except for Saturdays when I’d log between 15-20 miles. In one session.
Writing that now, my knees ache. Literally, my patellas cry out in pain at the amount of pounding they used to take day in and day out. Praise God I never sustained a traumatic injury of any kind–with that much output and no rest, I’m shocked that I didn’t develop some kind of bone spur, strain, or tear.
Why was I so compelled to log in that many miles? Why???
It may seem like a cop-out answer, but 99% of the reason why I sacrificed sleep, time with friends, and my health to run was because of the eating disorder. Along with restricting and being highly selective of my intake (hey, it was the nineties and the low fat rage was booming), I also saw long distance running as a way to form the ideal body–which in effect, was a way to numb and distract myself from the real issues at hand that were out of my control, namely my mother’s illness, graduating college, finding a real job, and meeting a guy that I could end up marrying.
The fear of the unknown left me with a multitude of questions: What am I going to do after college? What if I hate my job? Will my mother be able to see me graduate? What if I never find anyone who will love me? What if I never become a mother? There were times at night when I’d wake up, my room cool and dark, and yet I’d be sweating. Seriously, beads of perspiration would drip down my head as these thoughts and questions filled my perplexed brain.
Basically, I was scared to grow up and be a woman. So instead, I fixated on changing SOMETHING about myself that I did have control over and eased my mental turmoil: my body. Long distance running was one activity that could tune out the noise, relive me of the anxiety, and grant me some kind of serenity.
Runners often claim of getting that “runner’s high”, when one feels like her legs could turn over and over for miles on end, breathing even and unlabored, mind clear. That “runner’s high” was what I aimed for every time I hit the pavement. Ironically, the more and more I ran, the longer and longer it took for me to achieve that state of euphoria. Whereas I could once get that calmness after a short three miles, the following month I’d have to go five miles to receive that same feeling. And then five miles turned to seven. And so on. And so on.
Those people who have met me within the last few years would be astonished to know that I once spent close to twenty hours a week JUST RUNNING. Why? Because I now can’t go more than 2.5 miles on a treadmill or the road without feeling like my head is going to explode from boredom. What made the change? God.
I tried willing myself to stop running cold turkey, especially when I weighed 88 pounds and was still attempting to huff and puff around Diamond Head under the blistering noon sun. My husband even went so far as to hide all of my shoes (and boy, did I have SO MANY shoes!), shorts, socks, sports bras, and shirts in his office so that I wouldn’t be tempted to run. Sadly, the eating disorder voice would speak to me when the itch to lace up hit, and I’d end up spending God knows how much money on second hand clothing and gear–and then hide them around the house and in my car so I’d still be able to run in secret.
It was only Jesus–the same God who healed the deaf and mute, who cast out demons and walked on water–who was able to change my thinking around overnight. I remember the time very clearly: I had just come back from a secret run around the neighborhood before heading off to work, and the overwhelming feeling of guilt burdened my spirit so much that I broke down into tears. Why couldn’t I just WILL myself to stop? If I could restrict food in a world full of hamburgers, shakes, and ice cream, how come I couldn’t just stop running? And then I felt the Holy Spirit urge me: Pray. Pray that Jesus would guide my actions. Pray that whatever Jesus would want me to do in life I would do, and that everything else He didn’t want me to partake in be pushed aside. Pray for His heart and His will, not my desires and wants.
Truthfully, it’s a scary prayer. Give up everything that I wanted? It’s a misnomer to think that what one desires is more than what God would want. In Isaiah 55:8-9, the scripture states, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'” God is more in tune with a person’s needs and wants–even moreso than the individual himself. If that is true, then who am I to say that I know what’s better for my life than the God who created the world and my existence? Didn’t He knit me in my mother’s womb, and am I not fearfully and wonderfully made by Him?
So on my knees in the middle of the living room, tears rolling down my face, I prayed that prayer. Lord, let Your will be done in my life. Not mine. Whatever is not of You, in my spirit, take it away.
And like a switch that was in the off position, with those words the lights went “on” and I had no desire to run. Seriously, I kid you not, the lure of the road, the feeling of sweat dripping down my brow, my legs pumping full of blood as I gasped through mile after mile, disintegrated. I’m sure this may sound quite “easy” or unbelievable to you who are reading this blog (“What? Lauren just prayed? And her addiction lifted?”), but in all honesty, there is a spiritual power at work when one prays. Jesus is not a liar, and when He said to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), He will be faithful and just to follow through on His word. Jesus did and can do miraculous physical healings, and in that same way he gave sight to the blind and rose people from the dead, so can He take away an addiction that had plagued my life for years on end.
Don’t get me wrong. The enemy, the eating disorder voice, would love for me to relapse into a full-blown marathon running spree. There are moments since that day when I feel like I want to run, and when that urge comes up, I ask, “Lord, is this ok? Do you mind if I go for a jog around the neighborhood?” The majority of the time, I feel a sense of peace in my spirit, and so I pop on my shoes and 20 minutes later the deed is done. And if I don’t feel that sense of peace? Well, I don’t go. Honestly, there have been a few times when I didn’t listen and strapped on my Mizunos anyway, and let me tell you, those runs were HELL. If I can imagine what hell is like, those runs were it. Dead legs. Gasping for air. Counting down every second until the distance was reached. With God, there is a peace that transcends all understanding. Without Him, there is much struggle.
In the end, I look back on all those marathons I completed and am thankful. I don’t miss the blisters on my toes, the millions of Clif Shots I’d buy a year, or waking up at the crack of dawn to file to the starting line of a race. What I am thankful for is that through all of those miles, through the years of me not listening to God and instead choosing to listen to myself, Jesus nonetheless still loved me and was there for me. And when the time came to return to Him, He welcomed me with open arms. No medal, no race PR, no amount of miles I logged could ever compare to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God–because unlike the fleeting records and trophies of this world, the prize from running a race for Him reaps eternal and everlasting rewards.