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RADJournals: Carl Jarema shares rediscovering running during COVID

Since the spring of 2020, we have all been through so much. The pandemic has ebbed and flowed for almost 2 years now, and with that tide, so has our emotions and mental health. Though I avoided the physical trials of COVID so far, (*knock on wood*), I was not immune to the mental toll. The changing rules for social life, my kids going to school and then being sent back to home school, and my wife and I juggling working from home at the same time, in the same house; I was searching for control, consistency, and an escape. My rediscovery of running brought me back to an almost “normal” life. 

Naturally, “Rediscovery” means that something must have been discovered in the first place… and that happened 24 years ago. That is a hard number to type, as it is well over half my years spent on this Earth. I know many of you can relate. I was strongly encouraged to run cross country in high school. I picked it up pretty quickly. I was an OK runner, but never really tapped into my true potential. I was good, not great, and to be honest… was probably in it more for the people and the feeling of belonging of a group than for my own personal reward. I chose to leave the team my senior year, “because I missed summer training,” but really it was probably because most of my teammates had moved onto college so felt disconnected from the team. My shoes were packed away, my athletic clothes in the blackhole of my over packed dresser. Sure, I played pick-up sports through college and really was into mountain biking, but nothing organized. Then I graduated and “real life” started.

Real's about carving out a career, starting a family, doing your “job” from 8 to 5 and family from 5 to bed. Rise and repeat. I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.  But as the tide of life and parenthood rises and falls, there comes opportunity. Much of life can be discovered and rediscovered between the ocean tides. In 2016 and 2017 a friend of mine was working for a charity in the Chicago area, Open Heart Magic. They bring trained magicians, “Heroes,” into children's hospitals to brighten the days for the sick children and perhaps a bit of “magic” to their healing process. The charity was offering entry into the Chicago Marathon as a part of a fundraising activity. I joined the OHM team in 2016 to support my friend, near brother, and an organization I felt he truly loved. I joined again in 2017 to feel a part of the team and for those kids. It’s easy to run a marathon without much training when you compare your trials and tribulations to what the sick children, trapped in a hospital, go through each day. I am proud of both marathons, I gave it all I had the day of the event, but again, didn’t quite do the work in preparing. Running a marathon was on my bucket list, and for those two days, I did give it my all, but I did not give my all every day leading up to those two races. Maybe I wasn’t doing it for myself, maybe it was just for that sense of belonging. 

And again, after my second marathon in 2017, my running shoes and clothes went back into the black hole of my dresser.  My shoes dry rotted away.  I was still hitting the gym a couple days a week if I felt like it, but things were simply OK. Do your job for the company, do you job for your family, and things will work out. Well, that was working out OK until the spring of 2020. The pandemic captured the world, there was new guidance and direction every day on what or who is safe to be around. Nothing felt like it was in our control. My health and fitness took a nosedive, and my “great metabolism” of younger years was not doing me any favors. Next thing I knew, I was 25 pounds over my normal weight, making terrible food and drink choices, worn down from the hours on the computer working from home. Add in the yo-yo of my children doing in person and then virtual and then back again in-person schooling. Add another heaping serving to my out of control dinner plate please.

Finally, in the fall of 2020 I chose to take control back. I chose to make a choice. This time there was no team, no charity, no goal race in sight. It was just “run.” Take advantage of a lunch hour at home to run a few miles. No 2-hour commute home in traffic. Go for a run! Just get outside and do something to make you happy. Running gave me a chance to clear my mind. My “Nothing but Nothing” moments where I didn't have to think about anything at all.  It started as a few days each week, then it turned into a, "let’s plan to be ready for a half marathon in the spring" pursuit.  My goals grew from there. Can I run seven days in a week? Can I run for a month, six months, a year? Why not!?!? Since I made the choice to lace up my shoes on November 26, 2020, I have run 326 days of at least a mile. Now I am a streaker. Some days were barely a mile, some longer. I have completed two 50k trail races and am eyeing another this year.  I am a better runner now, than I was at 17 running cross country. I want and need it more now.

I hate the word “regret,” but I wish I could smack my younger self in the head. There was so much potential! But we need to choose to move forward, there are no mistakes, just the opportunity to learn. I choose to run for me now, for my own mental health, for my own well-being, to inspire my children, and for a healthier family. I haven't just rediscovered running…. I've reciscovered myself!



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