Meditation on Running and a Story Not About Weight Loss

I have always been active. I have also always been big.

Felt big – felt trapped in excess body. As a kid I had to take steroids for asthma, and in turn I gained over 50 pounds – 50 extra pounds on an 8 year old frame, is enough to get noticed. Get teased – I stopped wearing grey because in 2nd grade every time I would wear grey kids would trumpet elephant sounds as I walked by. And in 8th grade every Wednesday when we would run the mile my P.E. teacher would yell, as he jogged along side me ” As long as you’re in front of Alex, you’re doing fine.”

But this isn’t a story about teasing or bullying (even though that is an important PART of the story.) This is a story about having two sons and a daughter, and a changing body. This isn’t a story about weight-loss and yet it is. This isn’t a story about finding myself, or self-love, but also it is.

It’s complicated – the same way the relationship with my body is.

I have always loved the things my body allowed me to do. Hiking and backpacking and scuba diving and 1,000s of other things… but it always felt disjointed- what my body could do and how it looked were separate entities- one to be celebrated and one to be punished. “Working out” was akin to serving penance for having too many slices of pizza or cake.

Then I got pregnant.

Growing a human made me feel powerful and beautiful and mighty and then I would look at a photo and cry. I felt one way and looked another. (In my mind) I didn’t look like the powerful mama who hiked 10 miles, 8 months pregnant.

With each subsequent kiddo these feelings of reverence for what my body could do got muddled with feelings of frustration. Frustration at my body- more than that, anger- loathing even.

I would look down at my belly and smile and all the good things would wash over me and I would be at peace with myself. And then I would put on a pair of jeans or look in a mirror or see a photo and those feelings of security and joy would be instantly gone. Replaced with a sense of betrayal. I felt betrayed by my body- why couldn’t it look the way I felt?

Then my thyroid went haywire – turns out it had been an issue my entire life, just misdiagnosed. When L was about 8 months old I had to have my thyroid removed and because of complications I had to abruptly stop nursing. It felt as if my body had betrayed me yet again. I was devastated. After the surgery I gained all the weight I had lost after L back and then some. This was a crushing blow.

But again, this story is simultaneously about weight and isn’t.

I was recovering from the surgery, on thyroid medications that were always in flux and I was feeling really separate from who I understood myself to be. This was the hardest part- all of a sudden hiking was HARD. All of the things I knew my body could do- turns out it couldn’t.

Doctors told me I needed to “get active.” Which felt insane. I have always been active and now I was doing the same things with three kids? How is that not enough?

But, okay, I guess. So I started going to the gym. (remember this story isn’t a PSA about “getting healthy” or “getting fit.”) This is a story about my body and I, the journey “we” have been on together. And this part- the part where I started going to the gym is a huge part of the journey.

Then came running, which I avoided like the plague – thanks to Mr. Scott and the godforsaken miles run around the track of my middle school in tears. It started with a tear soaked 5k. And then another. And another. And then one day because I had a serious lapse of judgement I agreed to a 40 day running streak (1 mile minimum a day from thanksgiving to New Years.) A couple of friends and I celebrated the last day of that streak with a -30 degree 10k.

And then came a 20k. A teary, sweaty, painful 20k. And I still can’t call myself a runner, but I run.

Turns out I love it. Turns out running fills this weird masochistic yet empowering part of myself. The part that is learning to push through pain. The part that says “I can’t – I will.”

Running takes all the fragments, all the disjointed parts of myself and pushes them together, if only for the run. The parts that say, “you’re too fat to be a runner” and the parts that marvel at my body for its accomplishments are fused for the time I’m running.

And now, when I get home as the kids are waking up, L will ask “you go running, mama?” Or as I am stretching on the deck after a run, O will ask how far I went and always remember to say good job. G and I even run together sometimes ( he’s 7 and so far has continuously run 2.5 miles.) This weird and painful and amazing activity has taught me how to talk to my kids about self-love.

It was a mystery before. And daily I struggle outside of running to merge myselves. The self that is proud of what my body can do, and has done ( hi, growing three humans) and how it looks to me. But, I am able to talk to my kids about self-love in a way I didn’t understand before.

Praise comes in the form of, ” you’re so capable- way to climb so high.” Or ” you’ look so strong when you paddle” I want them to celebrate their bodies in relation to what they allow them to do – never despite it

So instead of weight goals I’ve been setting alternative goals. To run faster, farther, to lift more weight, or do a headstand.

(Which today I did- so maybe that’s what got me reflecting on this journey.)

I don’t know if I’ll ever look at a picture without finding flaws, without wincing and thinking “delete it.” But, I do know that now, I don’t delete them. Instead I reflect on what we were doing in that picture – focus on the moment, the memory and give myself a moment to be happy with my body because it allowed me to do said thing.

And the kids, hopefully they learn this- without a lifetime of starts and stops. Hopefully they find the thing, their “running,” that thing that makes them feel all the ways they’ve imagined themselves. And they carry it daily – outside of said thing- into every moment.

I want them to climb and raft and explore and play and be- confident in who they are inside of their skin, all parts of themselves jointed and whole.

So, this was a story of all those things I said it wasn’t- but it also is a meditation on praise and learning and running and on what every mother hopes for their kids.

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Alexandra Mortiz-Hanson

Alexandra Mortiz-Hanson