I remember flipping through a magazine when I was a sophomore or junior in high school and coming across an article about a celebrity who had started running local 5Ks. I think it was one of those teen magazines (I have no idea who the celebrity was). I wasn’t a particularly athletic kid, but I found myself thinking, “maybe I can be a runner. I don’t have to join a team, and I can wear cool shoes.” It seemed like a logical choice for a 16-year-old with no interest in organized sports or after-school practices.
So I went to Kohl’s and bought a crappy pair of running shoes (something I wouldn’t be caught dead doing now that I work in a running store). I decided I would start by just running around the block. That seemed reasonable. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t even make it the 50 yards to the corner from my driveway.
At 16, I had already been diagnosed with migraine disease, but it wasn’t well-controlled with medication. I wouldn’t know about the endometriosis that was making me anemic and sucking the oxygen from my muscles until almost fifteen years later. In the meantime, my doctor would give me an inhaler for what he assumed was exercise-induced asthma. Each time I’d hit the road to attempt a run, my lungs would seize and burn, making it impossible for me to do anything faster than a (very) slow jog.
But I stuck with it. If it had been easy, I don’t know that I’d still be running today. Each time I went out, I tried to pass a few more houses before I had to stop and walk. Eventually, I was running a mile nonstop. I might have had a very loose definition of “running,” but I was putting one foot in front of the other. And you have to start somewhere.
Most days, I came home from school with pain and swelling behind my right eye, some degree of nausea and severe sensitivity to light and sound. When you have a migraine flare, all you want to do is curl up in bed with the lights off. And while that’s a totally acceptable response to migraine, it wasn’t my response. After all, I was in the angsty throes of teenagerhood. Running became my way of saying “fuck you” to my illness (and some days, the world). I was doing the very thing that I shouldn’t be able to do. I was sticking my middle finger up in the face of a disabling disease. I was running out of spite.
I’ve run a lot of races since the Pumpkin Dash. In just a few weeks, I’ll run my longest race yet – the Hot Cider Hustle 15K in Detroit. And I’ll need all the motivation I can get to reach that caramel apple waiting for me at the 9.3-mile mark.
I know plenty of runners who repeat empowering mantras or wear shoelaces with inspiring quotes when they run. The only mantra that seems to work for me has always been “Fuck You.” So if you see me on the race course swearing under my breath, just know I’m not cursing the weather or cramping up. I’m in the zone. This is my mantra, my power move.