I remember once having read a passage somewhere that said if you can find one thing you are good at, and enjoy, then that will lead to many other avenues in life. It took me time to discover a talent which I truly enjoyed, but one day not long after my twenty-first birthday I found my niche. I was born to be a runner.
My journey did not begin so easily. I started running after a series of paradigm shifts caused me to rethink my life, and its trajectory. During this time period I was an overweight sophomore in college weighing 220 lbs. I was unhappy with my physical appearance which fueled a dangerous drinking and pill habit. Every morning I woke up and began my day with whiskey in my coffee and a series of crushed uppers and downers going up my nose followed by breakfast which consisted of pot brownies and two back-to-back Marlboro Smooth cigarettes. My life was in a seemingly endless, destructive loop and I did not see any end in sight. I needed a change.
I took a couple of months toward the end of that year, 2011, to assess my life. I wanted to clear my body of toxins, and help my mind to reboot itself naturally. Gradually I began cutting out people who fueled my addictions. Some were understanding, others not so much, but I knew many of my actions were influenced by the crowd I was associated with and I needed to be somewhere better. I needed to go back to being me. Eventually, I weaned myself from menthol cigarettes to American Spirits, then finally on December 2, 2011 I quit. Cold turkey. It was just in time for the Christmas holidays; a period where I could reflect, let my body cleanse itself, and consider my next steps in going forward with my life.
A few days into the break and I began to notice the changes happening to my body. When I was a smoker I had a near-constant cough throughout the day, but by this point in time I notice it gradually beginning to diminish and my lungs starting to feel like they could once more draw a full breath. My weight started dropping, and by the end of the first week I was down to 205 lbs, but still with a long way to go before I achieved my ideal physique. My cravings for cigarettes, Adderall, and Xanax began to drop, and I had very little desire to drink. I felt all these changes, but even so I still knew I had many foreign toxins left in my body. On December 14th, I decided to try something I had never done willingly. I deduced the best way to get rid of these chemicals was to sweat them out, and from my previous experiences in high school sports I knew there was only one way to do so quickly. It was time to run.
After digging through my closet and finally finding some old gym pants I had not worn in years I made my way to the nearest park. Growing up in Brandon, Mississippi the closest place I could think of to go try my skills at running was Shiloh Park, a place where when I was a child I had played baseball, soccer, and football. The entire drive there I was both excited and terrified. I was ready to make this next great leap in changing my life, but at the same time I was nervous of what other people would think. "Would anybody see me and laugh at this fatass trying to run?" I debated with myself the entire drive, and before I could think of a reason to turn tail and go back home I reached my destination.
Fortunately, Shiloh Park was completely empty of people. It was around 2 p.m. when I parked my car, and the weather was sunny and warm. I could hear the birds singing as they flew through the air. I took a moment to tie my shoes extra tight then began to do some warm up stretching. "This is crazy. This is crazy. YOU are crazy!" I kept thinking to myself. Finally, after my warmup was finished the hour of judgment was at hand. My do-or-die moment had arrived.
For the fist time in almost three years my feet began to really move. My knees, not being used to carrying my body with this kind of force, groaned as I went from a brisk walk into a jogging stride. I could feel my chest both tightening and expanding. Air filled my lungs as I ran past the singing birds. Thirty seconds passed, and I realized that running was not entirely as bad as I remembered, but it still was no miniscule task. I had to mentally force myself to keep going, because I had a goal to achieve: sweat out the poisons still left in my body that I had put there. My intention was to completely exercise my demons.
Several minutes into my first run and I had completed one loop around the baseball fields, though I was feeling a decent bit of fatigue. I took a break from my jogging pace for a brief moment to catch my breath. At this point I was only ten minutes into my run, but I did not feel defeated. I was not dead, and I had worked up a decent sweat. Nobody was around so I was not worried about my appearance or appearing to slack in my workout. This was for me, and nobody else. I was working to get my life back in order and I would not let myself fail.
I set a goal for myself to make this first running experience go at least thirty minutes, even if I had to walk for brief periods in order to make it possible. After catching my wind I picked up the pace and returned to the jog I had earlier. My ankles began to feel sore at this point but I kept pushing through the pain. Sweat was really beginning to accumulate on my long sleeve shirt, and I felt my heart pounding. It was a different kind of heartbeat than what I had grown accustomed too. This did not feel fluttery or jolted like it did after a pill and alcohol bender. Yes, it still felt like it was about to burst out of my chest but this time I was not concerned about the pain. This felt RIGHT. It was both the worst and best my body had felt in such a very long time. Deep down I knew this was exactly what I needed. My body was breaking free from its chains...
Coming up the hill running toward my car, the first run had been successful. I was feeling tired, but for the first time in many months, strong. My head spun from the hot blood rushing to my temples, but I did not feel the slightest disorientation. The run had helped me clear my mind, and I felt euphoric. In that moment I felt alive, and I was in love with my life. Though I was by myself, I was not alone. I had discovered something that made me happy. On that day I became a runner.
In the coming weeks, months, and now, years I continued my journey of running and keeping my body healthy. Eventually I dropped down to a healthy weight, staying around 165 lbs, and I have never touched a single cigarette nor used pills recreationally in the five years since I quit. I have still had my ups and downs with alcohol, but I always manage to catch myself, and slow down to moderate consumption levels before it even begins to appear to seem like I am slipping back to my old ways.
At the time of this writing I have completed twenty-six full marathons in nineteen different states. Running not only helped me to get my life back, but it expanded it in so many ways I could have never known during that first run in Shiloh Park. Eventually, my consistency in running helped me to land in the health and fitness industry, and now my day job is as a personal trainer where I oftentimes help others in their own journeys to improve their lives. Running, unexpectedly, also helped me to become a photographer and artist, as many of my running travels introduced me to locations, ideas, and places which greatly influenced my creative abilities. Everything I have gained in these past five years, I owe to the decision I made on that December day, now so long ago, to not quit. This is a story which knows no end.