Because I can. Because my feet and legs still move me forward. Because my heart pumps blood through my muscles. Because my lungs keep expanding and contracting, just as they should. Well, at least one of them.
I was 13 when my father took me running the first time. We ran down the hill from our white mexi brick house, across the big road, and down to the sea. Along the beach, through pinetree groves and back up again, following dirt roads, passing old, quiet houses and the occasional evening wanderer.
Now and then, I had to stop to catch my breath and walk. At the end of the run I could taste blood in my mouth. I was beat. My dad went for a second lap.
I was not an athletic child. I had grown quickly and reached puberty early. My body was my enemy. I was an artist, a singer, a reader and a dreamer. Somehow, in spite of everything, I became a runner.
I had tried dancing, riding, tennis and soccer. Unfortunately, they all involved other kids. I was afraid of other kids. When I found running, it was a perfect match. Not because of my speed or endurance, obviously, but because I could do it alone, when I wanted, where I wanted. No choreography, no big animal, no ball. No kids. Just one foot in front of the other.
Since then, there have been periods without running in my life. But I always come back. And every time it blows me away how good it makes me feel. Physically and mentally. It makes me stronger and more self-confident. It helps ease depressions and anxiety.
Almost six years ago, my right lung popped and collapsed. No reason whatsoever. I was getting ready to go to work in the morning, when I felt something snap next to my sternum, like a small muscle rupture. It got harder and harder to breathe, and my whole chest cramped. Unfortunately, ignoring it did not make it go away, so I finally called a cab and went to the hospital.
I remember crying and thinking “I have a heart attack and I am going to die. Why now?! When I finally enjoy being alive.”
(I thought I was dying, but I didn’t call for an ambulance. Oh no, miss self-sufficient took a goddamn cab. Go figure.)
Ten months later I knew that my predicament was called spontaneous pneumothorax. By then, my lung had popped and collapsed several times, and it was decided I should have surgery.
“You have a very healthy-looking lung”, the surgeon complimented me afterwards. Apart from the whole popping and collapsing business, I guess…
In very unorthodox and brief words, he had cut off the damaged corner of my malfunctioning lung, “stapled” the hole shut, and “glued” the lung to the inside of my chest. I was happy, high on morphine and thrilled to get rid of my lung problem. Until it happened again, while I was still healing. This time it tore right at the bottom, towards the diaphragm, where the lung was “unattached”.
Apparently, this was not unusual. So they just left it to heal on its own. At least the lung could no longer collapse, since it was now held up by my rib cage.
I got back to work and eventually started running again, encouraged by my surgeon. Staying active would be good for me and my lung. But I kept having problems for years. My impatience made me too ambitious, to soon. Last time it popped was after an evening run along the Las Canteras boardwalk in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. I could feel the familiar tightness in my chest and had to walk the last kilometer back to my hotel. Next morning, there it was again. That bubbling, rustling sensation inside my chest, at every breath.
I gave up. Thought I would never run again. Started taking yoga classes. And I found myself gradually breathing better, deeper, gaining a new kind of body consciousness. When I finally dared to try running again, I was taking no risks. I decided to run short distances, slowly. If my chest tightened or felt heavy, I would pause to stretch my upper body, and breathe, deeply and slowly. I was patient.
For a while, my stamina got even worse, but I carried on. All that mattered was that I got out there and did a few kilometers. If nothing else, the air and the monotonous movement soothed the depression I was in. And I was relieved and thankful to be running at all.
Both my depression and my lousy endurance turned out to be caused (partially) by anemia. And when my blood count got back to normal again, so did my running. I had been able to keep my lung intact for fourteen months and now there was an oxygen party in my veins. This was the summer of 2012.
Today, I run more than ever. Call me crazy, but I’m training for an ultra marathon in June. I am going to run 53 kilometers! My longest run so far is 23.5 kilometers, and the only race I’ve participated in was a 10K a few years back. I’m a lone runner, remember? Races never appealed to me, until last summer, when I heard about Tjejmarathon.
It was started last year by Madeleine Johansson and Ann-Sofie Forsmark, as a marathon for women. But rather than making it shorter than the regular marathon, like women’s races usually are, they decided to make it longer. Because why should a women’s race be shorter? When I heard about it on the radio, I had just read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to run”, and my love for running was back with a vengeance.
I’ve also signed up for a half-marathon in May. Let’s call it a warm-up. I’m not fast. Never have been. But I’m thinking I might have what it takes to run long. My only goal is to keep going, because I never want to stop. I just love running, and I’m thankful for every step.
I can run. So I run.
Why do you run? Or why don’t you?