I sometimes feel a pang of guilt as I’m bundling my kids up and getting them ready to sit in my double-jogger while I run for an hour — especially when our day is so full that my mind is completely incapable of wrapping itself around everything that needs to be done. Isn’t it selfish of me to think that my run is more important than the grocery shopping? Than the laundry? Than preschool playgroups?
But those thoughts only last for the first half mile or so. And that’s when my stress begins to dissolve, and what seemed impossible half an hour ago begins to feel manageable. “I can do this,” I think as I push the jogger down the sidewalk. As I pad along, things settle in my brain, and I’m able to see how all the pieces of the day will fit together. Order comes to the chaos as the miles pass and 45 minutes or an hour later, when I pull up in front of our apartment building and unload the kids, I not only feel as though I’ve accomplished something, I feel empowered and energetic — ready to tackle that daunting task list.
There are days, of course, when I can’t fathom taking the time to workout. Those are often the days when I putter around the apartment indecisively, unsure of where to start, debating when to do this or that. By the time I actually come to any conclusions, the morning is half over, and I’m forced to do something (anything!) before nothing at all happens (which sometimes happens, anyway.) And then I’m cranky and irritable, frustrated with myself and feeling practically useless. Those are the days I usually end up saying, “I should have just gone for a run!”
It really isn’t any surprise to me that running — or any kind of exercise, really — can help manage stress levels and the work-life balance pressures you feel from all the different roles you play in life: as a parent, a spouse, a friend, an employee, a neighbor. But I read recently that running — and other forms of exercise — also increase your feelings of “self-efficacy” or the feeling that you are able to take things on and get things done. I see those feelings work in my life on a daily basis, in the ability to evaluate, organize, and execute the mundane tasks of life and work and motherhood.
But I also see how it has had an effect on my life in the long-term. Since I began running nearly nine years ago, my confidence in myself has increased dramatically. I have become someone who welcomes a challenge and does not shy away from pushing the limits of my comfort zone. Much of that, I’m sure, comes from signing up for races, preparing to run them, and then watching the results of my training come to fruition as I push through the miles and cross the finish line. But a lot of it comes from simply putting in the time to fill my mental, physical, and emotional wells daily so that I can draw on them throughout the day. I’ve seen, as the years go by, those wells grow deeper and more useful to me as life has become more complex and detailed.
So many people say they don’t have time to run, don’t have time to exercise. There is too much to do, and there are too few hours in the day. Exercise gets bumped to the end of the priority list — the part that we rarely get to. But over the years, as my family has grown and my responsibilities have increased, I’ve learned that the opposite is true for me: I don’t have time not to run. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to skip the part of it where I gather my resources and organize my energy. If I’m staring down a list of too many tasks or a collection of roles that seem impossible to fill, the best approach is the one that leaves me saying, “Yes, I can. Because look what I just did.”
Photo Credit: Lizzie Heiselt