Out the Crazy
I never knew stress had such physical impact until I ran five miles on the treadmill one average Wednesday morning in February.
And I didn't run.
In fact, the closest I'd come to running the ten years prior had been chasing my naked, screaming toddler as he sprinted down the sidewalk with a cookie and an agenda.
I'd never been able to run a mile, let alone five. In elementary school, I used to beat everyone in the 100-yard dash on Field Day, but I lagged somewhere around 23rd place in the quarter-mile. As a high schooler, I chased boys and played sports that didn't involve running. In college, I ran up to 7-11 for Slurpees, to the store for cheap wine, and one month, I ran around behind my boyfriend's back and got some nasty phone calls.
Never, never did I run run.
I envied the runners. Their commitment. Their quads. Their lung capacity.
I never assumed I'd be one of them one day.
Until that morning. And boy, was it a morning. I had two kids at the time: Brady who was two, and Kaden who was seven months. They decided to give me more stress on that preschool day than I knew what to do with: One poop explosion, one adamant, earsplitting refusal to go on the potty, one hidden set of car keys, two scorned breakfasts, three shirts on and off, and four trips back into the house for items I'd forgotten.
Once I'd wrestled everyone into the car, twenty-five minutes late, Kaden screamed all the way to school, and Brady alternately commanded him to be quiet, and commanded me to make him stop crying.
I didn't cry myself until Brady hit me in the head with his sippy cup.
I could feel the stress in my shoulders and neck as I dropped the two-year-old off at preschool and lugged the baby back to the car so I could go to the gym for 45 minutes of peace and quiet. I was irritated. I was beyond frazzled. This frenetic morning was the icing on the cake to a stressful month I'd just been through.
Four weeks prior, my husband had started a brand-new job. With his new responsibilities came brand-new hours. As a work-from-home mom, I was taking care of the kids all day, and for the first time, all evening, too. Throughout the month, I was also trying to meet deadlines in my own job and rent out vacation condos we'd purchased two years before. In addition, my baby was teething (read "not sleeping") and my toddler was acting out because of my husband's glaring absence. Couple all that with the everyday catastrophes two baby boys bring about and I was, needless to say, beyond stressed.
In four weeks, I'd gone from a semi-normal woman with a tendency to yell to a crazed maniac who felt like chucking both kids into the nearest volcano, catching a flight to Munich and drowning my sorrows in a stein full of pilsner.
Since that wasn't an option, (there never seemed to be any volcanoes in my neighborhood), and I knew for sure I didn't want to take any depression or anxiety medicine (although a psychiatrist was my next phone call), I went to the gym that morning. And I ran.
At first, I just wanted to encapsulate myself in the anonymity of earbuds and listen to any music Barney wasn't singing. Then, it started to feel pretty good, so I threw my towel over the mile-tracker and kept running. And a guy jumped on the treadmill next to me and started to jog. And since I'm competitive, I told myself to keep going until that guy stopped going.
And he kept running.
So I did, too.
I ran and I ran and I ran and when he wiped his brow and slowed down, I whipped the towel off the machine to check my progress and discovered to my astonishment that I'd been running for 54 minutes. Five miles.
The outright shock made me miss a step and nearly catapult off the treadmill, but I righted myself, punched the rate down to a walk, and checked the mile-tracker again.
To my amazement, I felt great. My lungs weren't burning. My muscles felt loose. My head was clear. After cooling down, hopping off and stretching out, I checked my pulse and discovered that in less than six minutes it had slowed back down to my normal resting rate.
I'd apparently had so much stress in my body that it had allowed me—the woman with zero capacity to run any distance at all—to run five miles like it was my job.
So, I did it the next time I went to the gym. And the next. And within two weeks, five miles didn't seem like any kind of a feat at all. I felt like if given an unlimited amount of time, I could run an unlimited amount of miles.
So I ran everywhere. I ran at home, I ran at the gym, I ran on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. I ran and I ran and I ran, and slowly, the stress that had overtaken my life melted into something a little less ugly.
I no longer shrieked at the top of my lungs when my toddler smashed Play-doh into the carpet. I no longer wanted to heave my Pfaltzgraff to the floor every time I missed a deadline. I no longer wanted to karate-chop other women who looked put-together, poised and patient.
I no longer wanted to cry every second of every minute of every day.
The running helped me cope with those tiny stressors throughout the day that had added up to STRESS. It fueled me with power, adrenaline and just a little bit of a buzz.
On that normal Wednesday in February all those years ago, I was running away from the stress of a life with two little boys. Today, I run to keep my life filled with happiness, peace, and just a wee bit more sanity now that two boys have turned into three, and somehow, life hasn't gotten any less chaotic.
To date, I haven't looked back.