Outrunning Heartbreak by Gabrielle Kassel
I began distance running during the early months of 2014 on a treadmill at my college gym because I was experiencing, what I coin, “my first grown-up heartbreak”. In shabby workout shorts and an ill-fitting t-shirt publicizing a campaign I only half-heartedly support, feeling muscle-loose and head-consumed, I enter 8mph into the display, and begin what I expect to be a 2-3 mile run.
I can’t remember the point at which my 5k run transformed into an hour-long sprint because it wasn’t an active decision. After 60 minutes the treadmill came to a halt and jerked me off. I removed the sweat-rag covering the treadmill screen to learn that I had in fact just run 8 miles, without any cognizance that my legs were sore and my lungs angry.
Running to the point of oblivious mileage became my release valve. While I was running I let angered-rap scream through my ear buds, and the salty sweat stain my shirt with pride. Running provided an escape from his leaving, who he was now sleeping with, and my inability to articulate the effect of his absence on both my psyche and self-confidence; one foot in front of the other, pump arms, find breathing pattern.
I ran through one problem at a time. Running became my penance for another funk of depression, and a reminder that hearts don’t really break every time we are pushed away from love: they still machine-alive our body and have the capacity feel something other than rejection and grief.
As the air warmed, and snow boots no longer became a necessity for an outdoor adventure, my runs transitioned from hour long sprits on a machine, to long stretches of paved paths hidden in the residential sections of Amherst and Northampton. The school year came to an end, and I was consistently running 7-10 miles a day (about 55 miles a week).
Addicted to the endorphins, release, and deep, dream-less sleep that running provided I adamantly refused to take a rest day. Until I realized both how quickly I was ruining through the soles of my running shoes, and how tender my ankles were to the touch. With my decision to be more conscious of my body while I pushed it to run, I decided to sign up for a marathon: a full 26.2 mile run, in October, four months away.
Weary in my ability to cross the finish line, I vigorously researched training schedules and interviewed experienced runners I passed on my runs around the reservoir. It became a unanimous decision that the most successful marathon plan is 7-9 miles 4 fours during the week, with one 15-20 mile run on the weekend. This schedule kept my weekly mileage consistent while also allowing me the rest days my body needed, but mind feared.
Extreme exercise and re-establishment of the body-mind connection is not an original concept, especially to my family or me. Before transferring Universities after my first year of college, Zumba became my therapist, and when my father was diagnosed with a blood-clot condition my already slender mother lost fifteen pounds from consistent gym usage and altered eating habits. Exercise and muscle-exertion make us feel good by releasing endorphins, repurposing energy, and chemically improving moods.
However, most long distance runners will confess that running has more than just chemical effects. It refigures the body and adds structure to the day. Running began as a tool to run away from my heartbreak, but became a tool for running towards a better, healed version of myself.
As the seven-month mark since his leaving passes, and the two month mark until my first ever marathon approaches, I still crave the physicality of running. However, my lust for mileage is no longer about my desire for pain and oblivion, but instead, about my longing for body-mind connection and for the untamed smile on my face after a good workout. Running continues to push me forward, both metaphorically and literally, into the next phase of my life with a whole-heart, accomplished-body, and focused mind.