How Running Saved My Life & My Faith

Growing up fundamentalist, my body was a constant source of annoyance and betrayal. It was a vile body, a body of death. It couldn’t be trusted. A woman’s feelings led her astray from God’s will and a woman’s curves led men astray into sin.

I was taught to systematically shut down my feelings. I was taught to ignore my gut instinct. I was taught to completely cover my body.

Yes, our bodies were temples but the way to honor a temple was by covering it up, hiding it away and ignoring it. We were spiritual beings. Our bodies were mere vehicles. It was the inner person that mattered. We liked to quote I Timothy 4:8: “Bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable for all things!

I guess it’s no surprise, then, that for most of my life I was adverse to exercise. I hated sweating. I hated moving. I especially hated running.

Running, I believed, was for a select breed of human, naturally gifted with long legs and genetically elite lungs.

For most of my life I lived outside my body. I ignored and suppressed my feelings. I drank gallons of caffeine to make up for sleep deprivation. I ate a poor diet. I did not exercise. And I bore five children.

After the twins were born, my body was a wreck. My immune system went down first: I was susceptible to every cold, flu and virus that passed within a five mile radius of my house. My menstrual cycle went crazy: I bled for two weeks each month. I got depressed. I gained weight. I lost interest in sex.

This is what I’ve learned: my body is important. It is very important. My body is good. It is very good. How I feel is important. It is very important. My feelings are good. They are very good.

My feelings and my body tell me important things. It is detrimental to my physical and spiritual health to ignore and suppress the things my body and my feelings are trying to tell me.

One year ago, in addition to a physical breakdown, I was suffering a spiritual crisis. I was disillusioned. My usual method for restarting my spirituality was praying more, fasting more, reading Scripture more. Except this time, I couldn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t working.

I stopped praying. I stopped fasting. I stopped reading Scripture.

Instead, I went running.

I started getting up at 5am every morning, lacing up my shoes and attending bootcamp before sunrise. I hated it. I hated every minute. My mind told me things like: running is bad, exercise is dangerous, getting fit is vain, you’re being selfish, you’ll never keep this up, why do people do this? this is insane! You’re going to die! STOP. NOW.

I kept going. I didn’t listen to my mind.

Two weeks later, I saw the first change. I could run just a little farther. I had more energy each day.

About three weeks into bootcamp, I experienced my first runner’s high. It was like an orgasm. It was sensuous. My entire body and mind was flooded with brilliance. I had been awakened. My body was alive.

I don’t run for speed or medals. I run for the feeling. I run for the orgasmic exhaustion, the sensation of being utterly spent. I run for the sweat pouring down my face and for the pounding of my real heart. I run for my heaving lungs and burning muscles. I run to expend every last shred of stress. I run to cast off my past.

I run to find God.

I run because each time my feet hit the pavement, pain is transfigured to glory. 

  • Lucie

    You’re my hero.

  • TheresaEH

    Good for you eh!! During this last year and your writings about body, modesty etc and reading the comments and or following the links of others who were in the same situation I am just wondering if some chrisitans are going to start wearing burkas!?!?

  • Maggie

    Thank you! The last few years have been very stressful and I’ve dealing with it in all the wrong, wrong ways. Eating sugar, staying up late, drinking coffee, coffee and more coffee. The strange thing is my body has been whispering running to me and I’ve been fighting it. I’ve never been a runner and can really relate the meme floating around the internet that says “If you see me running, you should probably run too because something is chasing me.” But, it eventually feels like an orgasm you say? Hmm…I think I might just go buy two industrial strength bras and give it a shot.

    I agree with Lucie. You’re my hero.

  • Leslie Lee

    Yes, love this post EE!! Seriously encouraging! I agree – some days just covering some miles on my own two feet is the most spiritual thing I can do. I’ve been learning in the past few years to get excited about the things my body CAN do, like running, strength training, etc., and focus less on the other appearance-based expectations that I tend to put on it.

  • herewegokids

    Is that a pitbull? I love you.

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Beautiful! In heaven I will be able to run. With Fibro, walking for 10 minutes a day is about all I can do. Being satisfied with good enough is one of the disciplines God has taught me.

    I have a similar wrestling with meditation. I need to do it to manage the PTSD and anxiety gifted to me by my childhood. Being alone in silence feels like falling through Alice’s hole to wonderland. Thanks for the hope today.

  • Janel Andrews

    love this! soooo much. I desperately need to be better to my body, but when I start to exercise I have crazy acid reflux…so better get to the dr and see if that can be helped and then i can start myself off slow and work into it. My thoughts of self are personal damage that somewhere along the way i’ve decided that i’m not to be taken care of because i don’t derserve it…so i’m working through that messed up idea as well. so awesome that this is your new holy place.

  • pleschke

    I was thinking of your recent posts about the ‘purity culture’ . . . it’s not just confined to Christian circles. A radical Islamist was interviewed on NPR and said that all women in Egypt, Muslim and Christian, should be veiled from head to foot, or they were just “asking to be raped.” WTH? Maybe I should take his words with a grain of salt, ‘cuz he also said it was better for women to wear the veil, since their skin was different than men’s, and more susceptible to skin cancer, even after a week of unveiled exposure. Yeah. . . . so Christians are not the only ones who fetishize purity (and give men a free pass on self-control, apparently!?!).

    • KatR

      Unfortunately, one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism in most religions is the need to control women.

  • Amanda

    I suddenly want to go for a run…

  • Andrew Carmichael

    Your stories about taking up running provided a key part of the inspiration for me to do the same. Thanks!

  • runnergirl

    I was 15 when the assembly broke up. I wrote poems about wanting to kill myself. I couldn’t breathe. my whole life stemmed and flowed around prayer meetings (that took place in my house, which meant that even my HOME life was controlled by it), bible studies, outreaches in the park, sunday meetings, workers meetings on saturday… i would spend hours outside at 2-3 am, praying to God, writing letters, dilligent notes at every meeting. Bible studies in the morning for an hour… when I was 9, 10, years old.

    Needless to say, thank GOD that its over.

    I am an avid runner. I run for me. I run for freedom. I run to feel the best kind of pain there is. I run to pound everything I was taught into the ground.

    I got stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship because of my belief that LOVE IS A CHOICE, NOT a FEELING.

    Your post on that literally opened my eyes as to why I stayed so long. I was trying to “be good enough”. I hurt myself during that relationship many times, because whenever it was going badly and I FELT something about it, I subsequently felt as if I was weak for feeling. I should ALWAYS be able to love someone, NO MATTER WHAT they say or do to me. THAT’s true love.

    So I run to leave that all behind.

    Run on.