chasing runners high

megan lies on the deck with a smile on her face, wearing a ball cap and big headphones, sweaty and red after a run
i don’t always look this happy after a 10 k run. 
i don’t even always look like this after a walk. 
but some days i do,  and since i made amends with my workout routine, they’re a lot more common.
 
 
 
for the last few years i’ve let my movement take a back seat - being deep in the cycle of burnout meant everything felt overwhelming and exhausting, especially working out - so 9/10 times i’d just skip it entirely. there was rare days when a burst of energy would get me to the gym or out for a run, but they were few and far between - even though i knew the endorphins and the movement would help me feel better overall. even the thought of stretching for five minutes felt daunting when i was in the deep spirals of anxiety and burnout.
aside from the burnout - continuously trying to push myself with strict timelines, planning workouts for the week ahead, and sticking to my usual modes of exercise was no longer working for me. i spent 10+ years of ebbs and flows where i pushed myself to reach whatever goal i was chasing (weight loss, lifting heavy, timed distance runs, etc) and then inevitably (A) felt unimpressed by the time i finally reached it and immediately moved on to something else, or (B) gave up entirely somewhere in the process and found myself months later starting from the bottom again. feeling obligated to hit goals left me feeling guilty if i didn’t, and if my progress was slow or interrupted i discounted all of my achievements and success to focus on one loss. even if i had a good workout, if i left the gym on a high, if i noticed myself getting stronger and feeling more energized - i couldn’t count any of that as wins and only looked at the numbers. it always, always, a l w a y s, left me feeling less than good enough. my relationship to my health suffered from these sharp dips into self-judgement and created a lack of momentum and motivation when i needed it most, in the valleys or plateaus of my progress. luckily i’ve generally lived a fairly active lifestyle and worked on my feet, so i still felt like i was moving my body at least at my minimum, but i carried around a lot of guilt for not working harder, looking better, being stronger. 
 
 
this year, as i focused on healing my mind and body from burnout,  i tried to forget everything about the goals and regimens that i usually apply to my workout routines. timelines, detailed workout plans, competitions or goals - i didn’t want any of it. i’ve (finally) learned that super strict timelines and overly specific goals don’t work that well for me in the rest of my life because i thrive in flexible productivity, so why was i so stubborn about applying that narrow sighted thinking to exercise? 
 
 
this spring as the weather warmed up and the world locked down i changed my approach entirely - i made the daily goal just to ‘exercise’ , and see what happened. 
 
 
i set out to run and just see what felt good.
just see how far i felt like going. 
just see if i could run a little farther before i walked. 
if i could just stay present in my breath and motion. 
if i could just appreciate the sun on my face or the rain cooling me off.  
just see how my muscles feel, what aches and pains came up. 
just see what thoughts and insights came up. 
just see. 
 
 
i saw a lot. i saw the plants growing a little more each day on the path i took. i saw the freckles on my skin start to grow around the edges of my sports bras. i saw that it takes me about 2 kilometres to really settle into my pace and my thoughts. i saw that i didn’t need ~cardio~ music to have an efficient workout if that wasn’t the vibe i was feeling. i saw some depths of my mind that i had hidden away in dark corners. i saw that if i say i’ll save my yoga practice for before bed, i usually won’t do it. i saw the tools that years of learning about movement and muscles and athletics had given me, and how i could integrate them in a way that fit me, my needs, and my interests uniquely. i saw what works and what doesn’t for me. 
i didn’t aim to run a marathon, hit a certain time, lose or gain any weight - i honoured what felt good in my body each day. 
 
i started to crave going for a run or hitting my yoga mat because of the mental peace it offered, not the calories it burned or the box it checked.
 
i didn’t aim to run a 10k by the end of the summer, hit a certain time, lose a certain amount of weight, build a certain amount of muscle - i just honoured what felt good in my body each day. i rested when i needed to, and didn’t get frustrated with myself when i needed walk breaks or a day off. i kept my running tracker on, and looked at my stats every day with a sense of curiosity instead of judgement. an 8 minute kilometre? oh that’s where i got tired and walked, and paid a little closer attention to the plants and flowers on the roadside - that was a nice break. that under 5 minute one? sweet! that rhythm felt great and i was really in the zone, look how much faster my max is than it was last week. this week it looks like i’m finding my sweet spot pace around the 3rd kilometre - maybe i need a little more of an aerobic warm up on the days i want to really hit the ground running (also maybe theres a giant overpass in the first stretch of my run and those damn hills always slow me down). i just moved and was present in my movement, instead of entering each day with a preconceived notion of what my workout would be.
and the milestones came anyway. my times went down, my muscles got leaner, my endurance kept growing, my stretches got deeper and more satisfying every day. i ran longer runs more often than if i had scheduled them in. i regularly hit my old goal pace, and faster. and on more days than ever i came home smiling. i picked up my weights on the days that they felt good, and let them collect dust in weeks where that type of training was too stationary or too rigid for my mood. after not running once in the previous 6 months, i did 75k collectively in my first month this spring with this mindset. i hit my mat 26/30 days. even if it was 5 minutes, i counted it. i built the habit, day by day, instead of looking ahead to the milestones. and while these numbers still ebb and flow with the daily patterns of life and the changing of seasons, i’ve kept my streaks going and more importantly have kept up the want to do so. i crave going for runs, i crave the peace i find in my practice, i crave the natural highs that come with endorphins instead of the temporary ones that come from the ‘wins’. 
 
 
 
every day i unroll my mat or tie up my shoes, i set no expectations. i might think as i leave my door that i feel like a short and slow 4k, but then the runners high kicks in and i end up doing 10 before i turn for home. i might start a video only to pause it 5 minutes in to focus longer on one posture that feels extra good or necessary in the moment. 
 
 
i listen to my body. and in turn, it clears my mind. 
 
 
 
movement has been one of the top ways i’ve been able to deal with and understand my anxiety. it’s fundamental in keeping my baseline energy happy. the pure mental clarity after a good stretch of 'runners high' is addictive - the feeling when it finally all clicks together is worth all the sore steps and slow starts, it validates the process at the same time as opening the floodgates for inspiration and even flow. the thoughts (and poems, and songs, and memories) that pop into my head while i exercise are some of the most insightful and useful breakthroughs i’ve ever had. i stop in the middle of nearly every workout to write something down - ideas for business, for art, past traumas to work through, poems about my surroundings, anything and everything comes to mind when my body is preoccupied and my mind can really grind its gears efficiently. and sometimes i just zone out and enjoy the music or tap into my breath, which becomes meditative and is just as healing and necessary. in the song cringe by matt maeson he sings “sweating all your sins out, putting all your thoughts back together” - and that’s exactly how i have looked at movement as a form of therapy these past few months. moving your body and sweating out toxins literally clears your mind by removing pent up negative energy and getting your blood flowing where you need it most. once that negative energy is cleansed, you’re free to build back the puzzle of your healing thoughts and necessary emotions to where you can function most effectively. 
 
 
  
 
as fall whirls its way into the wind, i’m already restructuring to keep this curiosity up in the colder months. i’ll be doing yoga obviously, and i’ll run inside where i can, but i also want to ride horses more often, i got a trampoline for rebounding at home to keep things fun, and will increase my plyometric and weight training - but it will all stem off of this looser structure of flexibility and intuition. 
 
 
 
 
if you work best setting strict timelines and goals and pre-planning - good for you! i’m a little jealous. when it works, its so nice to feel organized and in control and to see those results. people that can hit the gym with a planned workout and roll through a routine, i salute you. those days for me are few and far between but they feel so good when they come. if looking at a rigid plan scares you away from exercising - that’s okay! think about how you DO work best, and apply that where you need it. this mindset can be applied to any kind of exercise, any kind of routine, any habit - forcing yourself to follow the path of others will only ever set you up for burnout and failure if you don’t take into account the ways you personally learn, focus and work best. 
 
  
exercise is such a fine line between pain and pleasure, between push and surrender, between planning and presence. 
 
 
 
as i explored that line, naturally, without end goals - it led me to a greater appreciation for my body and all the things it can do, to a better understanding of my own boundaries and capacity, and to a more consistent and healthy relationship with exercise. 
 
 
 
in yoga there is a focus on honouring your body in the moment - it’s finally sunk in that i need to apply that to all areas of movement, and beyond.
 
 
 
and now it feels damn good to run. not every day. but most days. ☺️

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