On Monday, Jessica Anderson, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, shared her odyssey of transitioning from Christian conservative to progressive powerhouse. But there was a part of her story that she left out. So I invited her back again today, mostly because I found it so inspiring. Please give it a read and if you would like to see Jessica in office, consider contributing what you can to her campaign here.
The Religion of Running
-by Jessica Anderson
Do not be fooled by the title, this running has nothing to do with politics, but it did lead me here, meeting my husband, building my confidence and expanding my worldview. See I am not only running for political office, but I am also an actual runner, like feet on the ground, runner. Now most people think runners are out of their mind; who runs for fun? Hi, it’s me, I’m the problem. But seriously, what a lot of people don’t realize is that running, and specifically the running community kind of saved my life, more than any church ever could.
The year leading up to my divorce, I found my relationships with family and church members becoming more and more distant. I could feel myself withdrawing, hoping they wouldn’t see the emotional struggles I was going through. My mom noticed, moms always notice, but the rest just seemed to let me slip away. As those relationships got further away from me, I started lacing up and running away from my problems, literally. It was during this time I really found and fell in love with the joy of running.
Initially, in 2013, a few running miles out and back from my house, turned into local road races and I suddenly found myself becoming a part of this unique group of people. Runners are a special breed, filled with endorphins, encouragement and inclusivity. They even had their own language, “what’s you PR?”, “5ks or ultras?”, and my personal favorite, “what age group are you in?” And all of a sudden I had these people who didn’t see me as a mom, wife, or a Christian, they saw me as a woman, who loved what they loved, going for a run.
One of the first things you learn about in the early stages of running, is the runners high. It’s this euphoric feeling runners get, it’s rare, but real, and it hits you out of no where in the midst of a run or race, everything within you is at peace. I felt that, I would go on runs for 9 miles outside, with a great playlist and just wait for that zen to hit. Next thing you know, you find yourself at local running events; group runs where you can chat for hours while you chip away at miles, or speed work at the track, where run til your chest burns and your brain clears. And then there were race days, you got up way too early on a Saturday, to run until you feel like your legs can’t go any further and your heart is in your throat, and the craziest part is you actually paid to participate. But nothing compared to the people, volunteers and spectators cheering for you, a complete stranger, no judgement, just people seeing other people doing their best and applauding one another’s accomplishments. After the run is done, we celebrate the victories and gripe about the shortcomings, cheer one another with drinks and gobble down food (usually pizza or bananas), all while talking about life and of course, running.
This world of running became my church, my people, my new fellowship. It was there I found my voice, it was with those people I could open up about the hurt I was experiencing at home and those conversations and their support gave me the strength to move on and create a life I deserved.
Years later I realized something about myself, the reason it was so easy to assimilate into a Christian family and lifestyle. It was less about a relationship with God and memorizing verses in a book, and more about finding people, your people. I think for many, organized religion, like the church, is just a way to connect to other humans, to feel like you belong somewhere. What I learned was I didn’t need a Bible and a building, I needed nature, a good pair of running shoes and some kind hearted humans to join me on a run.
And just like that, I went from running away from my fears, to running into my future. It’s interesting to look back and see how without this community, I may not be here, right now, still running to another adventure, becoming the next Virginia Delegate of District 71.