If you’ve been following my running progress, you might have noticed that it’s been essentially Zero for the last couple of months. I finally succumbed to my hamstring injury, over and over again, this fall. For a long time, I felt guilty because I wasn’t running. I was barely moving. It wasn’t laziness but still, it felt like I was going against every Make It Happen fiber I’d developed over the last year. It was dumb, y’all. Guilt was serving no purpose because no matter what, I couldn’t run. And even when I would run a little, instead of being excited about running at all, I’d feel discouraged and upset by how little progress I’d made, or how much it hurt, or how difficult every step was.

Finally, in January, I cut myself a break. I declared this month to be the month of my off-season. I wouldn’t exercise unless I felt like it and honestly? I haven’t felt like it much, aside from taking many walks because walking is my favorite and I love our new neighborhood. And the break was just what I needed. Because now it’s almost February and my off-season is almost over and I feel renewed energy for exercise. I am excited to make my training plan, to start picking my races for the season, to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement running, once more.

But it’s not going to be easy. I have stopped and started enough in my short career as a runner to know exactly how awful it’s going to be. So my challenge is not in starting again. My challenge is in my attitude, in how I deal with the runs that hurt, that feel slow and heavy and awkward.

Today, I stumbled across an article written by a serious runner, who is dealing with the same thing. And even though he’s run thousands of miles more than I have, and much faster, we are the same. And his words are helping me shift my attitude, to approach this challenge with optimism and kind determination.

“There’s no joy, poetry, or rhythm to those first few weeks. Your body seems to have forgotten that it’s been running since you were three years old. There’s no connection between your shoulders, your arms, your knees, and your feet. They don’t work together like the fluid, well-oiled machine you remember. Instead, they rattle and rumble and lumber along. You don’t run like a Kenyan, you run like a Quasimodo.

So far as I know, there is no way to avoid this process, and there is only one way through it: sheer will. You go out and force yourself to do the ugly thing tomorrow, and then the day after that, and then the day after that. You trust that a better day will come. No matter how slow, awkward, and horrible each run feels, you envision a more-fluid future. You stay optimistic.”

This is my challenge. I will put one foot in front of the other, I will run slowly, awkwardly, heavily, and I will do it all while being incredibly kind to myself. I will not judge my success by my pace or the miles I run. I will cheer for myself for putting on my purple running shoes. I will sing victory songs as I lock the door behind me and set out into the neighborhood. And I will throw confetti on myself when I get home, even if I’ve only run around the block one time. Because something is more than nothing and should be celebrated, with abandon. And I am a runner. Yesterday, today, and for the rest of my life.