On starting a running streak—and keeping it—and finding myself again.
Just over a month and a half ago, someone very close to me passed away. A week after that, the careful house of cards that is my mind with mental illness—a house of cards I have tried (and sometimes failed) to keep upright for years—came crashing down. A week before, I suddenly went from the best fitness of my life to nothing, to not running, to 0, a goose egg, nil.
Grief. Anxiety. Injury. One helluva trifecta. For one eternal month, I lived and breathed that trifecta.
So much came out of the black hole of that month: a lot of useful lessons, an abundance of sincerely lived life, and too many good, hard conversations to count. I (re)learned how important it is to say exactly how you feel to those you love at every chance you get. I hugged harder than I’ve hugged in a long, long time. I planted flowers with my mom, stood outside during a rainstorm, went for long walks, watched sunsets.
What didn’t come out of that month, however? Running. I hardly ran at all.
At first when the IT band injury struck and prevented me from running, it only made sense: sometimes life has to trump training. I stopped running to focus my energy elsewhere. When mental illness laid claim to my brain, when grief dominated my days, when, when, when … it just made sense to stop running. For a month, I ran a mile or two once or twice a week. I focused on getting through the days. And, in that sense at least, I succeeded.
But two weeks ago, I looked up from my life to find that I hadn’t run in almost a week. A long ultramarathon race was looming just 45 days away. My running shoes were all piled in a corner of my room, gathering dust. I hadn’t seen a trail in weeks, and more importantly, I hadn’t felt the fire inside of me in so long—I wondered, very sincerely and with no small amount of fear, if the fire was out forever.
Spoiler alert: two weeks later, I’m now healthier, happier. I’m me again. I’m scheming about how I can run the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 miler, which I’m woefully underprepared for, in just a month. I’m dreaming again.
But back then, two weeks ago, I didn’t know what today would look like. I was unsure what to do. I felt a descending pressure. On the phone, my girlfriend reminded me of a story I’d told her. In middle school I used to do this thing: if I was about to take a zero day, if I didn’t feel like I could get in the length of run I needed to, I would run just a mile. At least a mile, every day—the streak helped me get out the door every day. Go streaking, she told me.
It was late by the time we got off the phone. The rain had just stopped, and as I slipped out the door and started clunking my way into an uncomfortable, robotic gait, I could still feel the water hanging in the air against my face. I headed down the road towards a soft path I like, feeling as if I were breathing for the first time after a month spent underground. It was June 1st—the beginning of a month full of possibility—and though there weren’t any fireflies out yet, I knew they would be here soon. By the time I hit the dirt I had found my stride again.
Ryan Horner is a Roam & Run athlete, as well as a reader, a writer, and an ultrarunner. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and makes running-related videos about his training and his running life on his video blog (ForTheLoveOfRunning) at www.youtube.com/c/ForTheLoveOfRunning. You can also find him on instagram at @ryan_horner_