The first time I ran was 03/09/2005, and it was an act of pure anger and frustration. I was overly committed to school and extra curricular activities and working three (3!) part-time jobs for a total of 60-70 hours per week. I was desperately unhealthy, hardly slept, never cooked, ate fast food practically every single day and washed it down with a 20oz Dr. Pepper, and stayed up drinking with my friends and roommates a few nights a week. It was the typical college student's lifestyle, really, and I was a very sheltered 19-year-old living on her own for the first time. I did not know or understand myself at all, I was unaware of what I was doing to my body or mind by letting things get so out of hand.
I forget exactly what set me off, but I believe it was a conflict I had with a good friend at the time. I remember sitting in my car and being so overwhelmed with anxiety and anger than I literally did not know what to do. A couple months earlier I had started making some positive changes in my life - I stopped eating meat, cut out soda entirely, and started teaching myself to cook (George Foreman did most of the work for me at first). As I sat there, feeling like my brain was about to implode, an idea came to me. I would go to the gym.
Mind you, I had joined this gym the year before and, aside from one sad attempt at a yoga class, had never worked out there (my lack of financial management skills was also a problem back then, obviously). I walked in and, in what became my gym-going tradition, immediately stepped onto the scale. I was hoping hard that I would be under 200lbs, so the number I saw absolutely floored me.
It really was a life changing moment. I realized in a flash how ridiculous my life had become, how I had let everything get out of control. It was also a liberating moment, though. I understood that my body was not something that was handed to me, a burden for me to carry. The number on the scale was not something that "happened to me." I brought it on myself, through a lifelong series of poor choices. So I walked over to the treadmill, still in jeans and a t-shirt, pushed a few buttons, and started running. I clocked three miles that day. That feeling afterwards - of exhaustion, accomplishment, control, pride - is what kept me going back almost every day for the next four months, until I left San Diego and moved to Kenya.
Health is not a state of being - it is a choice you make every day. 2005 was a pivotal year, in that I realized that I needed to make better choices. The process of losing weight, learning to cook, eating healthier, becoming active - all of it - is ongoing. I learn more every day, and am always trying to figure out how to apply what I've learned in a way that works for my body and circumstances. I can't say that it gets easier - I go on plenty of runs that feel just as hard as that first one. But, somewhere out there on the road, running stopped being something I had to do. It stopped being an escape, or a necessary evil. It became essential, joyful, a daily reminder to treat myself well and be present in the moment. I want, I need, to run. As silly as I was, as much as I would like to jump in a time machine, go back 10 years, and slap some sense into my teenaged self, I can't help but be thankful for that low point in my life. I would be here, running happy, without it.