Please welcome today’s guest writer, Julia McKee. Julia is a 2018 graduate and studied English literature and business marketing during her time at Calvin. She currently resides in the Grand Rapids, MI, neighborhood of Fulton Heights with her husband, Dan, and dog, Goose. She works as an account executive at a local marketing agency and spends her free time reading her book club’s most recent pick and renovating her almost 100-year-old house.
If you’re a runner, you’ll know there’s nothing like feeling the cold air on your face as you run down the sidewalk in your neighborhood listening to your favorite music reminding yourself how your legs move, right? Wrong. At least for me, it didn’t end so well.
In 2020, I was training for a half marathon. Every day after work, I would go down to the gym in my apartment complex and spend an hour or two running on the treadmill. I got all the way up to nine miles, which is a pretty big deal for me. Running became a constant for me. Then the pandemic hit and my half marathon got canceled.
When my half marathon got canceled, even though they offered a virtual option, I stopped running. I was not about to do the virtual thing. In order to make myself do it, I knew I needed the trail. I needed the other runners. I needed to pin that paper number on my stomach. Truly, the only thing that would cause me to run 13.1 miles without being chased was the fact that I was surrounded by others running 13.1 miles without being chased.
My half marathon getting canceled quickly became the least of my worries, because in April of 2020 I lost my job. It was my first job since graduating college, and it was by no means perfect, but it was mine and I was good at it. COVID-19 affected many, and companies were forced to make hard decisions, but there’s just no way to fully comprehend that you’re one of the disposable ones. Even if you are good at your job, even if you put in extra hours, even if you are well-liked, on time, articulate, and smart, you are replaceable. And you can’t fully understand what that feels like until you’ve been through it.
So I stopped working, and I stopped running.
A few months later, I was lucky enough to find a job in my field, and my life returned to normal. It was like the last few months of applying for every sort of job you could think of (an English major with marketing experience could definitely work as a lab tech, right?), worrying about my unemployment checks getting delayed, and receiving countless rejection emails never happened.
You know what’s equally as jarring as losing your job? Returning to basically the same job with different people and your life resuming without fully processing the last few months, all while in the midst of a global pandemic. Everything somehow reverted back to my life in March. The only proof that my old life ever even happened was the fact that I still wasn’t running.
2021 came along, and I thought it was the time to make changes. I needed to run again, I needed to work out, I needed to move. Maybe it was the fact that I was still struggling with feelings of failure, or maybe it was because I needed to feel like I was in control of something, because no matter how great my work performance was, I was always scared of getting fired. Whatever the reason, I planned on January 1 to begin running again.
January 1 rolls around, and of course I’m hungover, so I’m not doing anything. But then January 4 came and I started running. No treadmill running this time. I ran outside, in the snow, with my dog—feeling snowflakes and the cold air, letting the elements remind me that I’m a human who lives outside the four walls of my house.
I did not even run with my Apple Watch, and I certainly did not time myself. I just went for it, hoping that I had enough willpower to push myself each day—to get better and go further.
I ran every single weekday for almost three weeks. I wasn’t running fast. I wasn’t running great. But I was getting better every day. And that’s the great thing about running. You see progress so quickly.
And then my dog saw a cat.
My 80-pound, strong-willed mutt saw a scroungy neighborhood cat. It was snowing, the house I was running in front of had yet to shovel their sidewalk. I didn’t have those little metal pieces that strap onto your shoes for traction because I’m not a real runner yet (my plan was to achieve “real runner” status by June). I knew I was going down the second I saw that cat.
When my dog jerked me, I made the decision to fall to my right into someone’s lawn because I thought that would be better than the concrete sidewalk. And for a few minutes, it was. I got up, yelled at my dog, and kept running.
Then, I went to wipe away the snow on my left hip and realized my pants were ripped, I had a huge cut and was gushing blood. Somehow, I must’ve fallen on something sharp enough to cut my skin clean. It took me a second but I realized pretty quickly that it was not just a regular scratch. There was a large piece of my skin hanging off my leg.
After an awkward run home with my mitten covering the wound and my dog running joyfully and oblivious beside me, a trip to urgent care, a tetanus shot, a lot of numbing gel, a dosage of antibiotics, and many bandages later, I was right back where I started. On my couch.
In just a few more days, when my body is ready, I’ll start running again, as if the whole thing never happened. The only thing that will remind me of the incident is the scar I’ll have for the rest of my life. But if I fall again, I’m picking up yoga.