Soon after I got Denali I realized my somewhat sedentary life style had to end. I woke up early every morning and we would walk 3 miles or so. Once she got a little older I decided to start jogging with her. At the end of each walk we would start jogging for the last block, then two, and slowly worked our way up to longer runs. She was happy and mostly worn out and I was building confidence – it was good for both of us.
I was never an athletic person. The closest I got to athletics was being a co-manager for the boys track team in 8th grade. Watching others run was fine with me, but actually running? That was awful. Each year when we had to do the Presidential mile in gym class, I’d run as far as it took to get to the pine trees. Once I was out of sight, I’d walk for as long as possible. Running was miserable. It made me feel bad about myself because I was so winded and slow. I was convinced that I would never be good at anything sports related.
Knowing this about my past, you may be as surprised as I was when, in my mid-20s, I started running with Denali and actually enjoying it! Eventually we stopped walking and ran all the time. A runner friend of mine started training for a half marathon and asked if I wanted to join her. The idea seemed crazy, but I said yes anyway. In January 2012 I finished my first half marathon! This began a new trend in my life. This past May I completed my tenth half marathon – something I never dreamed I would achieve, something I didn’t even know was a dream until it happened.
For the past 4 years I’ve been training for a race, which means I ran 3 to 5 times a week for 4 years. Even though I’m not very fast, I was always paying attention to my times, hoping to get a little faster, hoping to get under a certain time. Looking back, my training was a reflection of my life. Yes, running felt good and was a healthy exercise for me, but it was more than that. I was always moving quickly from one thing to the next. I didn’t have time to notice or pay attention because I had to get to my next goal in a certain amount of time. I rushed home from work to get in a run before an evening meeting. I squeezed in a short run before meeting up with friends. From one thing to the next to the next…
After the race in May I decided that I was going to take a break from running. As I was preparing for this sabbatical, I knew I needed to let my physical self be a reflection of my mental self. If I was still running and trying to squeeze things in, I wouldn’t be able to slow down my mind and spirit. So, beginning in May, I went back to walking. Denali and I walked miles and miles this summer. We walked up and down streets looking at the houses and the trees and the bugs. We noticed other dogs and walkers, we saw birds and squirrels. We were thankful for the slower pace because even while walking we were hot and sweaty.
Nowadays I do think about going for a walk daily but I don’t worry about my time. I don’t worry about how far I’m going (usually) – instead I notice the changes in the yards, the leaves that once budded and now fall, the flowers that were vibrant with colors are now fading, the children that are growing, the dogs that still bark at us even though we’ve walked by hundreds of times. Things change and things stay the same. My walks are less about being fast and getting in shape and more about one step at a time and clearing my mind. It may take longer to get in 3 miles now, but the 3 miles seem more intentional and meaningful. My steps, while they may not always be slow, are slower and hopefully these slower steps are reflecting my slowing spirit.
I’m thankful to my past self for thinking ahead about what I might need during this time of rest. I think she knew what she was doing when she decided to take a break from running – despite the friends that didn’t understand that choice. I think she was on to something. I suspect that if I were still running regularly, I’d have a harder time with the slow rhythm I’m trying to create for my days. Slowing down is very, very hard for me. I like to be busy. I like to feel like I’ve accomplished something every day – something tangible, like make a quilt or plant bulbs or go for a walk. Resting doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to me – yet. By removing opportunities to accomplish something, by taking away activities that require fast movement, I’m creating space for slowing down. I can’t slow down if I don’t allow space for it, if there’s no room, because I’m learning that slowing down requires lots and lots of time. So, today, I’ll take a walk and try a new yoga class. I’ll work on a quilt without any timeframe on when it needs to be done. I’ll sit and write, I’ll sit and try to do nothing. And, although this may still sound busy to you, trust me, it’s a change for me. I’ll do my best to linger and trust that this time of slowing down will be enough just as it is.