Defining Endurance: Running Through Recovery
By Emily Green @ehaswings
As a collegiate runner, I learned to appear healthy and perform functionally even while intoxicated. The right amount of alcohol before a run, and I could take the debilitating edge off an injury or even push through a nagging strain towards a performance record. For me, alcohol was a relief psychologically as much as it was physically; the demands of running were challenging, but my teammates were brutal. I was an outsider from the beginning, someone who came from a non-elite background and walked on to compete. Many of our training runs felt like scenes from Mean Girls; any attempt on my part to join in a conversation met with silence or indirect mockery. The silence turned into audible cruelty, and my short hair and clothing choices off the track were subject to homophobic jokes at team meetings and practice. While I wasn't out or nowhere near ready to face my true sexuality, those around me at the time speculated and used it against me. The pain was all-encompassing and thus began my dangerous relationship with drinking as a detour to feelings, an easy button for the more complex realities of life.
So the last night I drank was less a cry for help and more a repeat of what I could no longer revisit. Not for one more day, not for one more hour, could I ignore what I was supposed to feel, supposed to learn, supposed to be. With the help of my family, I began my sobriety and the long road through my recovery. I had put distance between myself and running at that time, taking it up here and there for short periods but found no joy in long-term practice. Without alcohol to numb my feelings, I suddenly had enormous potential energy, stubborn tears, resentment, and rage taking their marks, but with no direction for letting go. It was then that I flirted with my running shoes, taking them for a walk, then a jog, and eventually out for miles on end. I noticed that my emotions would transform into more manageable feelings during a run. I could process experiences from the past large and small, in ways that enabled me to heal and eventually reveal. I peeled back layers of dormant longings and learned more about the things I truly liked outside of what I thought I should. I applied this honesty to my career, my relationships, and even my recovery itself.
I began my recovery in traditional programming and eventually found elements that didn't work for me. After searching for a community and practice where I could thrive, I found a home in spaces that challenge drinking culture and not my willpower. Finally, a year into my sobriety, I was ready to acknowledge my sexuality, and I began to explore dating women for the first time in my life. While at first, I felt like I was too old, too late, and too inexperienced to attempt a relationship outside of heteronormative culture, I soon realized I was right on time. Not to say that dating is or was ever easy, but the confidence found in my recovery and through running reflected well into discovering where I belonged. That same year, I finished my first marathon in New York City and have gone on to compete and complete in many more.
There isn't a day that I don't experience the discomfort of some sort. However, unlike my days in college, I now have the tools to feel pain and keep going. I no longer run from anything; I stride alongside my feelings and then through. There are two definitions of the word endure; one is to suffer patiently, and the other is to remain in existence. Never one to be called patient, I choose to see myself as the kind of endurance athlete that remains in existence and stays present for the past, the present, and the future.