The prompt for National Running Day was “I run to _____.” I actually just had a little wave of anxiety as I typed, thinking about sharing the reasons that I run. The reasons are deeply personal, however publicly I talk about running. Personal, and innumerable, so maybe I’ll try to distill it all down to one basic idea. I run to connect my body to my soul.
I grew up an incredibly confident girl on the inside, with incredible self-loathing for her outsides. I hated my body. Hate is a strong word. Not strong enough. I developed at a young age in all the wrong ways according to a hormonal pre-teen. Big butt, thick thighs, flat chest. Boys didn’t like me, girls didn’t relate to me. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t necessarily fat either. I was the word I’ve come to hate more than almost any in the English language – chubby. I was chubby. And it’s not cool to be chubby as a kid.
So I grew up hating my outsides and wishing for new ones, while simultaneously loving life, being social, feeling creative and insightful, and in general enjoying the human soul that was developing as Becky Sigl. I was very conscious of this strange dichotomy. How could I be so confident and so insecure at the same time? Mind-body disconnect. You’ve all felt it.
Along came running. I began running as early as 6th grade but didn’t stick with it in earnest until my college years. During that time I felt more pressure than ever to somehow achieve the body that I THOUGHT would match my awesome inside self (don’t believe everything you think). Safe in my college incubation bubble, I knew that once thrust into the “real world” the clock began. It’s tough for women in Hollywood and if you don’t jump in the Hollywood Double Dutch game when you’re a kid, then you better be ready again when you’re a young twenty-something still young enough to play high school and college. If you miss THAT turnoff and you’re not “smokin’ hot” or super charactery then you may as well wait around until you’re old enough to play the Mom. I realize I sound very cynical and no one is obligated to subscribe to these silly rules. You can pave your own way and you should! But the pressure. It’s brutal.
So there I was, 21, getting ready for the real world, and I thought to myself constantly “I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight.” The only time I didn’t think these thoughts was on the running trail. Interesting. I didn’t all of a sudden feel satisfied with my body. I just didn’t give a crap. I was running.
Along comes the real world and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t magically transform into a 5’10” lithe supermodel or a cute little pixie girl in a size zero. Huh. Go figure. The real world arrived nonetheless and I started to realize how much I truly disliked this game of Hollywood Double Dutch. But I thought I’d still play anyway. I’d still attempt to achieve a body that would match my awesome, spunky, confident, inner self – still repeating the mantra “I have to lose weight” – I started running more consistently.
A funny and unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with my body. The body that in the past 10 years has run 13 half marathons, one marathon, and 2,000 miles to Tahiti. That body. The body that is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than it was 10 years ago when I started running to lose weight! I love that body. I love it so fiercely. Sure I get a little itchy when I feel a few pounds of new jiggle after the holidays or if I haven’t run for awhile, but I still love the jiggle, however unwelcome. I love it deeply because I’m grateful for it. I know what it can do.
In college I took a philosophy course that focused heavily on the ideas of Iris Murdoch. One of our textbooks was “The Sovereignty of Good.” (I highly recommend it). It is the act of focusing on the Good – art, service, love – that effectuates transcendence. This focusing and taking action lures us outside ourselves. You can’t simply try to be grateful as effectively as when you focus on giving to others which results in a sense of gratitude. You can’t try to understand humanity as well as seeing a great play – the pathos of which evokes an understanding of humanity as a result. A focus on good things brings about Good. The actions make us Good. It’s not so easy to be good for Goodness’ sake. Someone alert Santa.
I couldn’t try to love my body in a vacuum. I just couldn’t. I did try. Hard! I simply did not love it. 10 years of running consistently – focusing my mind on something healthy and active instead of the outcome on my appearance – changed me. It works this way in acting. You want to get out of your own head? Focus on your scene partner. What are you doing to him? Do it. Voila! No more in your head. So too with body positivity as it turns out. You want to love your body? Focus on doing things with it. Be active. Put your body to work. You’ll discover that it’s Good, EXACTLY as it is.
I started running because my 6th grade teacher told me to. I stuck with it in high school and college to try and lose weight, when I suddenly realized it had this potent by-product of making me feel sane. I keep running today not to love my body, but because I love my body. Running, as it turns out, is the bridge between my sparkly, glitter-spackled, spunky, soulful, introspective, confident, awesome, self and the physical vessel I was given to get through life – my body. You get one boat to sail the ocean. Don’t scuttle it. Name it. Take care of it. Decorate it. Love it. Have fun sailing.
I run to connect my soul to my body. I run because it’s spiritual. I run because it’s physical. I run to get out of my head. I run to focus on the Good.
Why do you run?