“I want to become a person who runs,” said Norah, sitting across from me at a small table on the balcony. It was a cool, damp evening—Saint Patrick’s Day—and our conversation was scored by the sound of distant, drunken shouting. I had just moved to Montreal.
“Me too,” I said. A lie, but an innocent one—the kind you tell people you’re trying to become friends with. “Maybe we could go together?” She smiled and nodded. “We should!”
I took a sip of Irish beer and thought about all the times I’d tried running in the past. It was always the same: I’d spend days convincing myself to do it, get exhausted within minutes and return home red-faced and panting. I performed this ritual about once annually, always concluding that running wasn’t for me. On the balcony, my hands stiff from the cold, I decided to give it one more shot.
Nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Norah, I downloaded an app with guided runs and set out on my own the next day, just to see how much I was capable of. As I pushed myself to go faster, already weary and gasping, the voice in my headphones urged me to slow down.
“You’re not in a race,” the man from the app reminded me. “And even if you were, you’d need to be running at a sustainable pace.”
I made a conscious effort to slow down until running felt fine—almost easy. I started noticing the world around me. I spotted murals I’d never seen, squirrels chasing each other at the park, a man throwing small rocks into the fountain. And another thing happened: For a moment, I stopped being aware of how much pain I was in.
A year and a half before this, I had developed a nerve injury that would become chronic, causing constant pain throughout my upper body. It barred me from doing most forms of exercise comfortably, as well as most of the hobbies I loved. Now, suddenly, I felt a sense of control over myself and my body that I hadn’t experienced in months.
When I ended my run, instead of chastising myself for how long the loops around my apartment had taken, I was proud to have run at all—and excited at the thought of running faster the next time.
I’ve been running since—sometimes with my friend, but more often on my own. Though I’ve gotten faster overall, there are still bad days, and I’ve come to love them. As a chronically ill person constantly fighting to keep up with the world around me, I’ve found running to be an unexpected form of solace—a brief period where I can go at my own speed, even if that’s not very fast.