I Started Running to Keep Myself Alive
I was broken and suicidal, and focusing on this weekend's NYC marathon kept me going.
It was an ordinary autumn afternoon. Ordinary, except for the fact that I was in my Manhattan apartment looking up suicide hotlines. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want to leave my bed. Most of all, I didn't want to live.
I was born in Russia, but I grew up a very happy child in the Ukrainian countryside. I drank milk straight from the cows. All of our food was organic. I was always climbing trees, lying in the grass, and riding my bike on our land—that's probably why I still love cycling today. When I was 16, I left the countryside to attend university. After graduating with two degrees, I started my own marketing business and met my ex-husband, but we divorced after a few years of marriage. I tried to rebuild my life: I started a popular fitness and nutrition website, became a virtual personal trainer, and made many TV appearances, but I always felt that I wanted to do more and that the United States was the place to do it.
I left the Ukraine and moved to the upper east side about three years ago with no friends, no family, and no grasp of the English language. I watched Sex and the City to learn basic, everyday vocabulary. When I talked to people, I tried to memorize words and sentences so I could use them later on. I became a personal trainer at a gym in Manhattan, but I didn't see it as a longterm career. I decided to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which foreign students need to pass to apply to university. After passing the test, I enrolled at the City University of New York's School of Professional Studies. This December, I'll earn my bachelor's degree in psychology.
I'm in a good place now, but I went through a lot of pain and suffering to get here. In 2016, I was in a horrible relationship unlike any I'd ever been in. Because of how it was affecting me, I lost my job at the gym. I started secluding myself—I stopped exercising and seeing friends, I stayed in my apartment, and I cried often. I was absolutely broken. Even worse than feeling terribly, I came to feel nothing at all. I never thought I would reach the point where I wanted life to end, and yet, I had.
In that moment, sitting in front of my computer screen, I didn't recognize myself. I had always considered myself a strong person. I lived on my own at 16, I dealt with a traumatizing divorce, and I moved halfway across the world to start a new life for myself. Something in my mind clicked: I didn't want life to go on as it had been. If I couldn't change the bad things that had happened to me, I had to do something to get myself out of that emotional state.
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The first step was getting up, out of bed and out the door. The biggest change came on November 6, 2016: I went to watch the New York City marathon because a client was running and I knew he had no friends or family there to support him. I have always been more into weightlifting and I shied away from running, besides some short races just for fun, because I thought I would get injured or lose muscle mass. But on the marathon course, I saw all these people running: men and women from all different countries, of all ages, with all kinds of body types. They all looked so tired, but so happy. There are some things I can't control, but I can control where I focus my energy. I thought, if I make it a goal to run the New York City marathon in 2017, that will at least keep me grounded and motivated to get up and out every day.
I went back to my apartment and logged in to my New York Road Runners account. As a New York City resident, you can earn entry to the marathon through the 9+1 program: Run nine NYRR races and volunteer at one in a single calendar year, and you're in. By that time, I had already run seven races, so I still needed to volunteer at one race and run two. I just barely made the cut-off, running my ninth race on New Year's Eve in Central Park.
Already, after just two months, I felt so much better from taking these steps—and that was only the beginning. Since January, I've run eight half marathons. When I started running, I expected to train for the marathon and then return to my regular workout routine. Now I know that I could never give up running.
This sport has given me my life back. It's made me stronger both physically and, even more importantly, mentally. I've always loved biking, so when I started running, people kept telling me I should do an Ironman. That seemed impossible: I almost drowned as a child, and I hadn't been in the water since. But every day, running shows me what I am capable of. I started taking private swimming lessons this year and I will compete in my first half Ironman in April.
My clients often think that exercise is something you do for a good body. To that I say: No. Exercise is something you do for your physical and mental health, and a good body is just an extra bonus that you get on top of that.
One year ago, I never thought that I would be here today. I'm happy. I'm my own boss. I have clients and friends that I love. I have found a new part of myself, a part of me that faces her fears and loves life. I think that everybody has this deep inside of them, the strength in themselves to accomplish anything.
Now, I know that nature does not define you. Depression and alcoholism run in my family, so I'm predisposed to those illnesses, and because I have an obsessive personality it would be easy to channel that in a negative way. Instead, I mostly stay away from alcohol and I spend my time doing things that keep me happy and healthy, like running. There's something special about it: It's therapeutic and the perfect time to meditate. It's a time when I can think about everything, and I can think about nothing. I'm reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and in it, Haruki Murakami writes, "What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue."
When I head out for a run, my body feels stiff for the first few minutes. After a mile or so, I loosen up and get into a rhythm. And by the end of every run, I feel better.
Running Wild is a partnership with Reebok that celebrates marathon season, the culture of running, and what motivates beginners and seasoned athletes alike to keep moving. Follow along here.
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