How running changed my life


Timmy Von der Ahe

After a long day of online school, MJ Von der Ahe ‘22 gets ready to de-stress by putting on her shoes and going for a run.

Most people hear the word “quarantine” and think of binging on Netflix alone, eating excessively or attending an agonizing amount of family game nights. But for me, I think about how I spent quarantine turning my life around. 

As an extrovert, when I heard the word “quarantine” last March, I heard the word “prison” instead. Not to sound dramatic, but hearing that we would be stuck at home for an indefinite amount of time, I seriously considered heading for the hills. What was a 16-year-old girl with the attention span of a two-year-old supposed to do with all of the free time in the world? 

At first, when quarantine started, I tried going on YouTube and looking up different ways to braid my hair. That, however, didn’t last long due to my lack of patience and my stubborn baby hairs. I tried learning how to sew with my brother’s old clothes, but they ended up looking worse than they originally had. I even attempted to learn some of the video games my brothers play, but I ended up quitting after getting scared of pointing a pistol at emotionless AR characters. Nothing seemed to click for me, and my boredom was increasing. That’s when my mom suggested I try something new. 

When my mom suggested that I pick up a hobby, I thought she was talking about painting or journaling. But when she recommended that I try going for a run, I was surprisingly not opposed to the idea. I remember thinking about how stupid I would look in my old, black Nikes that I hadn’t brought out since middle school and how humiliated I would look if I was running at a pace equivalent to a garden snail. But, after debating with myself at length, I finally worked up the courage to give running a try.  

It was a hot summer day in the middle of June, and I was sweating before the run even began. Before I put on my workout clothes, I mapped out my route so that I wouldn’t be running too far. I wore navy blue Lululemon shorts and a loose white t-shirt that said “Justin Bieber” in bold letters. I chose this instead of my favorite hot pink Lululemon shirt so that I wouldn’t stand out too much in case I was failing at this activity. 

I began with a quick five-minute walk to warm up my muscles and get my blood flowing. Once I heard my phone begin to chirp, signaling that my five-minute warm up was over, I began to pick up the pace and transitioned from a fast walk to a light jog. I started to gradually pick up the pace, telling myself to breathe in through my nose and exhale through my mouth in order to prevent myself from getting a cramp. I started to build a rhythm with my breathing, and the music playlist that I had found on Spotify, “Running Hype Songs,” kept me engaged and even brought an unexpected smile to my face. I started to actually enjoy this experience, and then, right after I had started to notice the amount of fun I was having, my run ended and I was home. 

When I went for that first run, I experienced what I now know is called a “runner’s high.” And after that first run, I remember wondering why I hadn’t started running earlier. And because of how good running made me feel, I started to implement running as an essential part of my day. 

Through running, I started to notice both physical and mental changes in how I felt. Running offered me free therapy. Through running, I have been able to let go of stress and focus on positive things. There would be times over the summer when I would be at such unease with either family problems or the state of politics. I remember feeling sensations of anxiety and stress throughout my body. When I would feel this way, I would gently remind myself to regroup, and I did this through going for a run. After going for a run, I would notice how much more at peace I felt. Even though running couldn’t solve society’s problems, it allowed me to look at them in a calm and collected way. 

Noticing the changes in my body and my mental health because of running put me on a health kick. Beyond running, I continued to want to feel good through the foods I put into my body, and I started cooking more meals at home. I found myself looking up healthy recipes I would want to try and feeling a sense of security in knowing exactly what foods were going inside my body. 

Before long, I felt like a different person. I felt like I was becoming the person I had always wanted to be. I thank my mom for pushing me, and give a lot of credit to running for allowing me the opportunity to dive deeper into an everlasting loving relationship with my mind and my body. 

All that said, as I write this piece, I feel as though there is something to say about the pressure women face to look skinny. Growing up as a teenage girl in 2021 is harder than it was in the past because of social media. Society has set a standard for what women are expected to look like, and images of these women are all over social media: perfect eyebrows, big lips, tiny nose, small waist, toned thighs, milky white teeth — the list goes on. The amount of times I have come across images of beautiful models from all over the world and not been able to compare my body to theirs is next to none. Almost 99% of the time, these images of these models are auto-tuned to the max, yet even with that awareness it is still difficult to not compare myself to the image. 

This image that society has set in place has driven women to do crazy things, such as over exercise their bodies, obsess over the way their skin looks and count calories. As a teenager, it is disturbing to watch women destroy their bodies and mental health all for the sake of an image. The amount of times I’ve witnessed teenage girls at the grocery store turn cereal boxes over to the back to witness the amount of calories consumed in one serving and then return the box back to the shelf because the calorie count was too high. It is heartbreaking to watch how this issue exists with girls my age. The issue with this problem is once you start noticing it, you see girls being hyper-focused on skinniness constantly. 

The pressure young women face to be skinny truly saddens me. I started my health journey as an attempt to create a better quality of life for myself, not to surrender to society’s standards. I strive to send the message that women who are looking to better themselves should do it for the sake of improving their overall health and well-being instead of allowing society to tell them what they should look like. 

With that being said, I acknowledge the complexity that comes with women and the pressure they face. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t feel that pressure. But what motivates me is not how I think I should look but how I want to feel.