I ran with my daughter the other day. We were at the local rec center for her variety zone class and the focus for the day was gym time. The teacher set up an obstacle course with all kinds of things to crawl under and climb over and at the end were a series of orange cones to zig-zag around. We were all goofing around and so I started running the cones as well, and then my daughter wanted me to hold her hands and so we were zig-zagging together, laughing like fools. Later she got fidgety waiting for her turn to do a somersault so we took a lap around the indoor track, hand in hand.
Running with a 3 year old is just joyful. It's freedom and motion and laughter, it's chase me and catch me and it's taking a walk break when she says "I'm tired of running now" and running again when she says "I'm tired of walking now!" There are no timers, no goals, no concerns about pace. It's running for the sheer joy of motion.
My relationship with running has been back and forth over the years. There was a time as a child when I ran the way my daughter does now - just because running was fun, because walking was too slow, because I had so much energy and speed just felt good. I can remember this, but I also remember adults telling me to stop, slow down, walk, don't run. So, I stopped running.
There was a time in my life I would have told you I hated running. I didn't want to sweat, didn't want to be out of breath, didn't want to feel that stitch in my side or the ache in my legs. However the Air Force decided to switch its (at that time) annual physical fitness test to running about 2 years into my 9 year active duty commitment. This required some adjustment on my part. I started to run again because I had to. I bitterly envied those people who could not run all year and then pass the test running fast enough to score a perfect mark. I knew I was not and would not ever be one of those people. The phrase 'natural athlete' does not describe me. So I started running. I used various programs, usually some walk-run variation. I found some couch to 5K podcasts that I really liked and that helped. I never became fast but I got better, and I managed to squeak out a pass on my test each year.
When I was deployed running became something else. It was something to do, something that filled up some of the empty time and felt productive. It was also a way to fit in, to socialize with others. Many of the staff in my clinic were running the monthly 5-K's and so I signed up for those too, trying each time to get better. After the races we would talk about the run and our times. Mine was always the slowest but at least I was out there with them. Running was very slowly becoming easier and more fun. After my deployment I signed up for a half-marathon with my husband and we both finished it. That was hard, but also fun. It felt amazing to say I had run a half-marathon. It felt so cool, so foreign to my self-concept as a chubby nerd, but indisputably something I had accomplished.
Pregnancy put a major stop to my running for a while. I was completely wiped out the first trimester and then I was uncomfortable trying to run with what felt like a bowling ball inside my pelvis. I scaled back to slowly walking a few miles a day. Once my daughter was born finding time to run became more difficult. My husband and I had always run together, but now one of us had to stay home with our daughter. We considered a jogging stroller but the obstacles we discovered were 1) you aren't supposed to use one until a baby is 6 months and has better head and neck tone, so you don't hurt the baby with the jostling and 2) jogging strollers with a 6 month old baby inside are heavy and not much fun to run with and 3) you'd have to be insane to wake up a sleeping baby to take her running with you early in the morning. I didn't like running alone in the dark so we got a treadmill and I slowly started getting back into shape.
I ran another half marathon when my daughter was about 18 months old, which was a little less fun than the first since my husband was watching our daughter and didn't train or run with me. I wanted to run it to show my daughter that women can run and that fitness is fun. I trained hard (ok, well, harder) and ran a littler faster than I ran the first half-marathon. My husband and daughter met me at the finish line and I felt incredibly proud but after that I fell off the running wagon. It wasn't much fun to get up before dawn to run alone on a treadmill before heading to work. I still feel anxious running alone in the dark outside. So I stopped. I gained weight, which made running slower and less fun when I did take a stab at it. Then I broke my ankle, and I couldn't walk or run for 7 weeks and could only walk in a boot for another 6 weeks after that. Once I was released from the boot I tinkered with running again, but not in a serious way. I would try the first few segments of a couch to 5K app and get bored, get tired, get sore, get sick and give up.
It's really fun to run with my daughter, though. It makes me smile. It makes me laugh out loud. I don't want her to stop running the way I did as a child. If I run with her it's the opposite of telling her to stop. Which I think means I need to start running again in general, since she's just getting faster. I know she's going to outstrip me someday no matter what I do, but I'd like keep up with her for a little while longer. So I ran on the treadmill today. I tried to keep myself loose, mentally - running for fun, for joy, not for a particular speed. I'm not sure - it's not as much fun, definitely. I'm not making any big promises, to myself or anyone else. But I did run. And maybe I'll get back on the treadmill in a couple days and do it again.