I admit it: I have a fear of running.

This is an odd statement to say, considering I’ve run 5 half marathons, 2 full marathons, and countless 5ks and 10ks and 10 milers.

But running causes me severe anxiety.

It probably started when I was in 4th grade, when I ran down the hill and my best friend Valerie came up to me with the stinkiest of stink eyes and said, “Whitney, you need to wear a bra.” So I’ve always been self-conscious about the way I look when I run.

After that came asthma, and the feeling like I couldn’t breathe. One of my biggest irrational phobias is the fear that I will stop breathing, and so, obviously, getting an asthma attack exacerbates that fear. And, of course, I’m always getting asthma attacks when I run:

When it’s cold, my lungs seize up.
When it’s hot, the ozone here in DC gets so bad that my lungs seize up.
In the fall, allergies.
In the spring, allergies.

So there’s about 3 days out of the year when I can run and asthma isn’t an issue.

When I started dating my ex, probably even before, to be honest, I got healthy at the university gym, but I never quite was used to running. It was always some unattainable goal, watching people fly down the side of the street like they were having the best day of their lives. I wanted to have that freedom to just be able to lace up my sneakers and go where I wanted, when I wanted.

I was 23 or 24 when I got on a regular allergy and asthma medication and was told I could run outside (or that I was using asthma as an excuse and could do everything anyone else could). I began on a cold winter’s day and came back in after a quarter mile because I couldn’t breathe. But I kept at it, put together a training schedule, and soon enough, I was able to run a mile. Then two miles.

The Pressure

I ran my first 5k in 2010, my first half marathon in 2011, my first marathon in 2012. The last two came because I started running with a group who accepted and kind of liked me, and I wanted to hang with them (read: I only ran because they ran and I wanted to be accepted). My fun runners were an incredible support system, a little family that I hung out with 4-5 nights a week.

Once I started running on the regular, my asthma was just one of many things that I had to deal with: I have a weird salt issue where I lose too much and over-hydrate and get dizzy. I developed a sensitivity to prolonged exposure to sunlight and I would get migraine-quality headaches after. My iron is low, so I had to start on an iron pill. I didn’t eat enough carbs, so I’d run out of gas.

There was so much work into being able to just lace up my shoes and run. Make sure you drink Nuun after lunch. Take your iron pill. At 6pm, eat a bagel and peanut butter. Take your Advair at 6:15pm. Take your inhaler at 6:45pm. Start running at 7pm.

Saturday mornings: Up at 5:30. Drink your coffee with soy milk (no dairy). Eat your bagel. Fill your backpack with Nuun. Wear your hat. Wear your sunglasses. Wear your compression shorts. Bring your peanut butter crackers. Bring your Gu.

If I missed just ONE of these crucial steps, the run was godawful. Even if I did all the steps, there was no guarantee that the run would be good, either. A true catastrophizer, every time something felt off, I would turn it into, “Oh God, I’m dying right now.” So I would slow to a heaving walk.

To stop and walk for a portion of the run was akin to a period of scathing self-loathing for being such a whiny bitch:

“Everyone is watching you walk, and they’re judging you, you fat pig. Get your shit together and run.”

I would finish a run or a race, and immediately tell myself that I could have done better. I could have run that faster, but I was being a baby and had to walk. What a piss-poor performance and I’m an embarrassment. I wasn’t even satisfied with the two full marathons I completed.

Never Good Enough

Let that sink in, okay?

I ran a full marathon – 26.2 miles – twice and it wasn’t enough for myself.

During my quarter life crisis, I decided to stop doing things that I didn’t enjoy. I began skipping runs because I just didn’t want to deal with it, and then finally decided to hang up my shoes for good.

I thought, I really don’t enjoy this, so why continue to subject myself to it?

But deep in my soul, I was really saying:

Thank God I no longer have to deal with running.

It was less a decision of conviction and more a decision to stop having to face my fears, or at least, that’s what it felt like. And for some reason, I feel like I’ve let myself down because I’m not manning up and dealing with it.

Instead of facing my fears, I’m taking the easy way out. Just like Lauren in Empath.

My fear of running often lead me to run away

That being said, I volunteered at a race yesterday – one that has bested me twice in the past – and as all the runners passed me by, I found myself missing running. I missed being a part of the group, I missed my GPS watch, I missed the miles. I miss the taste of Nuun on a Saturday morning on Haines Point. I miss my private morning tours of Washington, DC with all of the Japanese tourists.

I miss having a place to be every Tuesday and Thursday. I miss my dedicated no-screen time and music in my ear and my mind in faraway places.

I miss being fit and healthy. I miss my dedication and my focus.

So I’m considering picking back up my orange Mizunos and getting back out there. But I’m worried that if I do, the angry voices will return and I’ll be back into the same self-defeating patterns I was in before.

I almost just wrote that I need a place to run in complete privacy until I’m “fit” enough to run in public, but that’s an incredibly fearful statement, isn’t it? The brave thing would be to get my ass out there and just do it in full view, in full public, and dare those voices in my head to say something about when I stop and walk.

The brave thing to do is to show up on Tuesday and walk/run the whole thing at a thirteen minute mile and dare myself to criticize it. Maybe I’ll call on Suni to stand guard over my performance, with her giant sword and shield and keep at bay The Anghenfil all of the self-defeating thoughts.

[Insert comic here]

Damn, I really wish I could draw.