Running Free

Posted on May 12, 2020

Woman running on a trail

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Dr. Sarah Martin, Vice President of Health Solutions at mySidewalk. Find her on Twitter @SarahKCMO and on Medium. You can also hear her first-ever podcast (what else do you do during the ‘Rona?) here

What I’m Watching: Currently, right this minute, a marathon of My Lottery Dream Home. The couple on this episode only won 100k–ugh, snooze. Wake me up when we have a real Millionaire

What I’m Reading: For the first time in my life, I’ve gotten into audiobooks. I’m currently “reading” The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, and YOU GUYS IT IS NARRATED BY TOM HANKS.

What I’m Listening to: Stop what you’re doing and get into the best podcast of all time, Throwing Shade. I can’t believe it took me this long to find it. I was never really a “podcast person,” but sometimes I laugh so hard at this one that I cry real tears. I learned about it on my other fave, Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown

A note from the author: this is not an essay just for Local Gov people. I don’t even know if I mention anything Government or Government-adjacent in the whole thing. Just a heads up, in case you came for some tactical tips for talking about COVID-19. You can find all that on my Medium page 😉 

It is bananas to think that when I wrote my last Morning Buzz, Coronavirus was like kinda sorta a thing. I finished that previous Buzz, as I do many Buzzes, on an airplane. 

“But Sarah,” you may be thinking, “what is an airplane?!”

“Oh, child,” I respond, clucking my tongue, “first, it’s Dr. Sarah to you. Second, it’s a giant metal tube that glides through the sky and takes you to places where the buildings look different, and maybe people have accents. It’s glorious, it’s a privilege, and I miss it so damn much, but also not really”.

I had been in San Francisco for a super important meeting and extended my trip a day to hit the ELGL Supper Club in Los Altos (where I got to pose next to these two lovelies, who I am so happy to report were basically the last living souls I got that close to who I don’t live with). 

Things weren’t tense yet, even though there had been confirmed cases and deaths in Santa Clara County, where I spent one night of my trip. I rode transit! I went to a big Oregon wine tasting party! I shook hands! Then, everything changed. Within a week of that trip, my office went from an open plan converted Old Spaghetti Factory with a Ping Pong table and beer fridge to a corner of my living room where the ergonomics are wrong, but the lighting for my Zoom face is so, so good. 

Our office
An Office! What a Concept! Source:

The first week of working from home was pure Adrenaline. I made a list of what I would accomplish in the few weeks (ha. ha. ha.) I would be WFH. I made multiple lists. A list for books; a list for “other skills I want to learn”; a list for self-care; a list for home organization; a list for “enriching activities for tweens and teens”; a list for recipes I wanted to try, and–natch–a list for fitness. 

On top of my fitness list was “get better at running.” I wanted to become the type of person who says, “bye, guys! Off for a run!” and then just disappear for a long time. I wanted to nod to the other runners, no words exchanged, and feel like we were equals. I wanted to earn the right to buy this Lululemon water-holding Sports Bra thing, which looks like it came out of an episode of Altered Carbon

The problem with all of this wanting was that I hated running. In Bootcamp classes, the treadmill part was just something to be endured until you got to the better stuff. In obstacle course races, the running just gets you from one fun thing to another. I have signed up for 5k’s solely for the medal or whatever booze was at the end. Bloody Mary Halloween 5k? I’m first on the list. Mother’s Day Mimosa Run? Sign me up. I’ll put the Mimosa in my Lululemon post-apocalyptic Sports Bra. 

My first couple of runs were horrifying. I was the personification of the word plodding. I might as well have been power walking. My co-workers started up a Strava run club, and I was embarrassed to post my runs and times. Every time someone would give me “kudos” (the Strava-branded “like”), I assumed they were pity kudos. I would repeat the phrase “I am not a runner” in my head when I would run past the same shuttered Ax Throwing place on my loop or climb that stupid hill near my house, which somehow I hit leaving and returning. 

I had labeled myself a non-runner, and so I was non-running. 

One morning I was panting my way up the block, cooling off. An elderly neighbor said hello and introduced me to her friend, Pat. 

“Are you a runner?” Pat asked. 

“Oh, no,” I replied.

“Were you just running now?” 

“Yes, but I’m pretty slow.”

“Well, if you run, honey, then you’re a runner.”

Something started to shift at that moment. It wasn’t immediate, and it wasn’t a lightning bolt. It was more of a slow burn beginning to melt the labels I had frozen inside me. Over a few more runs, I started to take a blowtorch to a bunch of other labels I had packed in dry ice in my heart. 

I’m not a runner.

I’m not good at paying attention.

I am too judgmental.

I am too competitive. 

I’m too old. 

I’m not enough.

I’m too emotional. 

I’m mean. 

I’m angry. 

I downloaded the Nike Run Club app, which blessedly collaborates with Headspace for guided meditation runs. Chris and Andy taught me how to give myself grace. When a label comes popping into my head, I take the next three steps and whisper “Go. A. Way” under my breath. Just like that. 

Go. A. Way. 

1 step, 2 steps, 3 steps.

Go. A. Way. 

Some days are harder than others. On a long run recently, I ran by my old apartment building and stopped to tie my shoe. I realized that the ledge I was using to tie my shoe was the same one I had sat and cried on for hours one night when something sad and scary was happening in my life. Instantly, I felt transported back. It was summer, and the bugs kept hitting the light above me, making clacking sounds as their shells and wings hit the lightbulb while I sobbed on the phone to a dear friend. I hate bugs, but I was afraid to leave the light and go into the dark. I was in my pajamas, and I wasn’t wearing shoes. 

Instead of letting that memory derail me, I kept running. I made it to the river. I leaned over the edge of a metal railing overlooking the water, and I yelled. I balled my fists, and I pressed hard on my eyes. I must have looked ridiculous. Then, I shook it off. I did the tricks to steady my breath–4 counts in, hold for 4, out for 6. I took the anger I directed towards myself, and I pushed it out instead of in. 

We can not make progress in our running, in our careers, in our relationships if we allow ourselves to get swallowed up by the past. Labels are too heavy to carry if we want to run fast towards the future. 

I wish someone had taught me this earlier. I am sort of ashamed that it took a corporate exercise app that sneakily sells me workout gear (I fall for it every time… 10% off for finishing my longest run? Yah. Add to cart.) to teach me that real growth doesn’t come from external validation. No mentor in the world can do that for you. No promotion, no Peloton leaderboard (yo, find me near the bottom. I’m usually in the 66th percentile, and I am totally fine with it), no Strava kudos, no certificate of achievement, no degree can instill in you the courage to redefine yourself. 

As my new best friends in the Nike app say: “Be the coach you need.

This morning I ran almost 5 miles. This distance would have been unheard of 45 days ago. I started to feel those labels unearth their label-y power, and I beat them to the punch. I redefined. I redefined out loud (quietly, so as not to scare the other trail runners). 

I am a runner.

I am kind. 

I am loving. 

I’m a good person. 







Post-Script: I wrote a lot of this before the murder of Ahmaud Arbery became news. It underscores to me the immense privilege I have, being able to run while crying or mumbling affirmations to myself without fear of being gunned down by racists. On Friday, my colleagues and I ran our 2.23 in Ahmaud’s honor. I know a few runners posting on social media aren’t going to undo centuries of organized and institutionalized oppression. Still, it brings me some comfort to know that Maud’s family saw people all over the world, using running as a way to honor him. May he Rest in Power. 

Ahmaud Arbery

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