Running has always been a powerful release for me. It’s a good stress reliever, and it’s also a way for me to make progress. When I train for races, I set goals for myself so I can have something to work toward. With each run, I can feel myself getting stronger. I become more aware of my body — the aches, the soreness, the feeling of hunger.
Running helps me keep my eating on track. And it’s a way for me to simultaneously be alone, but with people. I’m someone who needs alone time. Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child, or because I’m somewhat of an introvert. Alone time helps me recharge and gives me time to write, run or do other activities that make me happy. But the time I spend alone often leads to a feeling of loneliness. When I’m in my apartment by myself for too long, I feel like I’m 11 years old all over again. That same feeling I got when I would come home to an empty house after my mom died comes rushing back to me. For months after she passed away, I tried hiding from the reality that she had died, still hoping she would be there when I came home from school.
This feeling of loneliness and loss is strongest on Sundays. Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest. But I’ve always thought of it as the day of stress. It’s the day when I overwhelm myself thinking about the work week ahead. It’s the day when out-of-town visitors usually go back home and say their goodbyes. It’s the day that my mom died.
For as much as I try to make Sundays enjoyable — by going to church or spending time with people I care about, they still throw me off course. Most Sundays, I turn to food for comfort, as a way to numb the pain. But lately I’ve been trying to find alternatives. I’ve been spending more time with friends and my boyfriend, and I’ve started having weekly phone calls with a friend who knows that Sundays are difficult for me. She calls me every Sunday night on her way home from church to check in and catch up.
I’ve also been making more time for exercise on Sundays. When I run along the bay in St. Pete, I feel a sense of connection with the others who are out and about, and I start to feel less alone. I see different crowds from the ones I see when I run on weekdays. The bow-legged man who nods his head and smiles whenever he passes, the two men who walk their fluffy black dog, and the girl who power walks with a constant look of determination are my favorites. For as often as I run by these people, I don’t even know their names. Still, there’s an understood sense of recognition, a comfort in knowing that for as much as things change, we’ve found an outlet for consistency.
I felt this sense of comfort when I ran the Iron Girl half marathon last Sunday. I had never met the women standing by me at the starting line. But we counted down the minutes to the race together and calmed our nerves by talking about how happy we were that the day we’d been training for had arrived.
After running the race, I spent the day with my boyfriend and ate all of my meals with him. This half-marathon experience was a lot different from last year’s, when I came home to an empty apartment and binged all night. This year, I felt full — not from food but from the fulfillment that comes from being with people we love.
I’ve heard non-runners say that people who like to run are running away from something. But I never looked at it that way. As a runner, I’m always running toward something — toward a goal, toward a stronger feeling of self respect. Years ago, that goal would have been to lose weight. Now, it’s to stay healthy. I run not just because it keeps me fit, but because it makes me feel better about myself and gives me a chance to enjoy my own company without feeling so alone. I know that exercise won’t always curb my loneliness on Sundays, but anything that helps some of the time is worth continuing. I got through last Sunday and this Sunday without turning to food for comfort. That’s only two good weeks out of many bad ones, but it’s progress.