Running Anxiety

I’m not sure how long you could actually label me a runner, but I’ve had runner’s anxiety for as long as I could remember.

It’s a really stupid feeling where you’re worried about what everyone else thinks concerning your own running style.

For the longest time, this anxiety was so intense, I would actually avoid running at all costs. I couldn’t run at the gym because it was always so crowded, everyone could see me, everyone else running would most likely lap me and inevitably everyone at the gym wouldn’t be focused on their own workouts or striving to achieve their own goals; no, obviously they’d be too focused on watching me and judging me. Running outside was off the table, too, because even though it’s less crowded, you never know when you’ll pass another runner and then you spend the rest of your run worrying about their impression of you.

Stupid, right?

Yet that fear was so real. For a very long time. So I wouldn’t run. And because running was my favorite form of exercise, this meant I just wouldn’t do any physical activity at all. I was too concerned with what everyone else thought. About my running form and whether I was doing it properly or not. About my physical appearance and how I was “too big” to run, how you can see my thighs jiggle or my arm flab shake, how my face gets really red, my breathing labored and my entire body just becomes a sweat bucket. About my running speed and how when I claim to be running, I’m actually jogging or fast walking at a really quick pace (which translates to running at a really slow one). On average, it takes me between 14-15 minutes to run a mile. Not very fast.

For years, I let all these concerns of fleeting judgments and the opinions of strangers stop me from achieving weight loss and strength building goals surrounding my own body that I had for just as many years as I did the anxiety, if not even longer.

But then last November, my heart was a little confused and a lotta hurt by this guy who ghosted on me. I’d cried too many tears, yet a mix of emotions was still raging inside of me and I just wanted to be rid of them, and crying wasn’t doing the trick. I had no idea how to release them. So I went for a run.

And for the rest of that day, felt amazing.

 running dogs puppy parade GIF

Not all of us can be this cute when running. Or smile and run at the same time. 

Granted, my heart still hurt and my body was sore as hell, but I experienced something I hadn’t in years, the main reason I love running in the first place: that natural, endorphin-driven high you get after running, i.e., the runner’s high. I didn’t realize how much I missed that feeling. So I kept running, for five weeks straight, before winter’s cold kinda ruined my groove. And though I haven’t had a streak that long since, I have been running more consistently since November, even if more consistently is only one or two runs a week.

It’s July.

If you read last week’s post, you’ll see there has been some progress made in my self-love journey thanks to that change. Progress that could have been made years ago, if I could have ignored my anxiety and pushed forward anyway. Because honestly? That anxiety was really pointless. Nine times out of ten, any other runners aren’t thinking about you at all when they pass you on the trail. If they do, the thought or judgment is fleeting, at best. At worst, it might be a comment like, “I saw this slow runner on the path today” they bring up to their family at dinner, but hopefully, it’s followed by a positive spin like, “but I was really impressed that I saw them on that trail. It’s obvious they were trying.”

Because here’s the thing, friends. So what if I’m a really slow runner? So what if my body jiggles when I run? So what if I don’t pump my arms enough or my strides are short instead of long? The only point is: I’m running. I am trying. Sure, a 15-minute mile isn’t exactly impressive generally, but for me personally, all I care about is that I completed that mile. And then ran another (and if I’m feeling really motivated, even a third mile in one run). It’s about completion, not speed.

The most ironic thing is, any time I see a runner, whether while I’m running, too, or just out on the street while I’m driving by, I’ve never once judged them. Usually, my reactions spanned from being super impressed, being super jealous or feeling guilt that I wasn’t out there running, too. Quite frankly, the larger the person, the more impressed I was, because I understood how difficult that was for them, yet they were doing it anyway. Who knows how many times I’ve motivated a stranger to push a little harder or impressed someone because I was out there running? Not to mention the number of waves, smiles or thumbs up I’ve gotten from other people during running. Or how amazing I feel afterwards. It’s gotten to the point that, when I didn’t run at all last week, my mood actually blackened and depression kinda took a hold of me again. That’s how important running has become to me.

Looking back at all the anxiety I felt–which was very real, but not very logical–I could almost laugh, but I mostly just shake my head and wish I’d conquered my own mind a little bit sooner and didn’t wait until running was my last resort and only option to release some pent up emotions. I can’t lie and say there aren’t times when I’m passed by a really fit runner or I’m just having an off-day, that anxiety doesn’t creep up again and whisper in my ear.

I’m pretty jazzed that I’m now able to tell it to shut up and keep on running.

Cheers.

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About Nicole Evans

Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. She has five completed manuscripts: a trilogy about destined heroes that fail anyway, a science fiction standalone that pits the natural desire to love against the natural instinct to kill during the extinction of the human race and a new series about a writer who can't get published and gets the chance to live a life that all writers dream. She also has two scripts done. Currently, she is about to start writing the second of a nine book series while planning two more. (If you can tell, she really likes this whole writing thing.) Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works part-time as a supervisor in a library at the University of Kansas. View all posts by Nicole Evans

5 responses to “Running Anxiety

  • Adam

    It’s funny how much of this feels like a parallel to the writing experience; the way that many feel like they’re not “good enough”, comparing themselves to others, when the reality is no one starts out good, and we’re often the harshest judge of our own efforts.

    I’m glad you’ve been able to get back on the horse, so to speak.
    I definitely find running to be a nice companion to writing. One is intensely mental, while the other is almost purely physical. The simplicity of writing often gives me a sense of accomplishment when writing is a bit of a curmudgeon.

    No matter how long it takes you to run a mile, or finish a story, you’re sticking with it, and that’s the real achievement.

    • Nicole Evans

      I find it kinda sad (and sorta funny, like you mentioned) how most categories, in my life, somehow involve or surround themselves with me comparing myself to someone else and then finding myself lesser. Which is both sad and unhelpful, so I’ve been working to do that less, with varying degrees of success in all of those aspects.

      Thank you! I definitely love your comparison between writing and running. Accurate, on all counts.

      • Adam

        One of my friends/mentors has given me similar advice. I think part of it is an aspect of our language, how many things are often understood through relative relationships, but there’s also a way in which Western Capitalist competitive culture is rooted in comparison. There are many situations where an educational system says “the top X will be elevated”, regardless of whether the difference between them is wide or narrow. It is tricky, but sometimes it can help to know you’re not alone in struggling with it…even if that could be considered a form of comparison 😅.

      • Nicole Evans

        That last sentence: “…but sometimes it can help to know you’re not alone in sturgglign with it…even if that could be considered a form of comparison,” is too much Inception for this kid. 😛

      • Adam

        It made you laugh, and that’s always good. 🙂

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