"What else have I been lying to myself about? What else have I been hiding from 'cause I was scared?" Teacher, writer, and Mexipina Christina Torres on how running helps her deal with anxiety, body image, and understanding her deepest sense of self.
is a teacher, writer, and runner based in Honolulu, Hawaii. Torres received her B.A. in English and Theatre from the University of Southern California. After joining Teach For America, she received a Masters in Education from Loyola Marymount University and followed her passion for education all the way to O‘ahu, where she now teaches at Punahou School. When she's not teaching kids, she's writing, running marathons, and searching for the best cheeseburger. Find more about her at www.christinatorres.org.
CHRISTINA TORRES: My name is Christina Torres. I'm 27 years old and I'm originally from southern California, but I now live in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Pretty much towards the end of college and the beginning of my teaching career, I had actually never run more than a mile. I hated running. I was always really bad at it. It always made my chest hurt. I actually left soccer, which made my Mexican father really sad, because I told him it was too much running and I didn't like it. I was the kid that would beg my parents to give me a doctor's note so I wouldn't have to run the mile. Running was always sort of associated with things I wasn't good at, with shame. I was one of maybe a handful of Mexican kids in my school and I was chubbier than a lot of other kids and so I was picked on, because I was really bad at anything athletic. So, for me, running did not have great associations, actually, until I was a little bit older.
I was actually looking at a bookstore and there was this book called How To Do Everything. It's one of those kind of novelty books and in that, they had a little thing about learning to walk-run, which is essentially you'll break running up into intervals. So you'll run 30 seconds, walk one minute, run 30 seconds, walk one minute and you'll do that for a week or two. And then you'll change the intervals so you'll run for a minute, walk for a minute, run for a minute, and then you increase until you're running.
And I remember that, finally after maybe two months, I was able to run 30 minutes, not very fast, but 30 minutes completely without stopping and that was right towards the end of my senior year and I had never done that in my entire life. “I was like, oh, my body can do things.” And I never really looked at my body that way. Like, my body can be trained to do new things and I was hooked and I've sort of been running ever since.
I was a freelance blogger for the San Francisco Marathon and all the stuff I had been writing, some of it, had been about running also gets me through anxiety, like, really bad panic attacks, but a lot of it had been, three tips to stay safe while running and things like that and no one was really talking about the fact that sometimes as runners we're not all feeling great about ourselves and I woke up one morning — you know, you just have those mornings and you look in the mirror you're like, I hate this. It's so irrational. Like, you know that nothing has changed in the past, what, seven hours since you went to bed? Nothing is different, but you wake up and it's almost like my body isn't mine which makes me sad, because all of my body is mine. If anything, it's the only thing that is truly mine.
So, for me though, once I started running it was really hard to be angry at my body in the same way. Those mornings where I would wake up and be like, what is all this stuff on me? My body doesn't feel like mine. I would get out on the road and all of a sudden, step by step, it was like running myself back to myself in a lot of ways. So it's nice to know that there's always going to be this place I can go where it's just me and the road. And there's something really beautiful about that.
I did the L.A. Marathon and, I mean, I'll be honest with you, it went horribly. I had not run more than a half marathon. I did not train after 13 miles, which is not good if you're a marathon runner and so I assumed I was going to hit this time and then I hit the wall essentially, because I also went out way too fast and so I knew I wasn't going to make this time and I ended up getting picked up by a pacer.
I'm not even sure what time he was and I was just crying, and I kept sort of saying, “I don’t know if I can do this, I don't know if I can do this” and he was like, find a mantra in your head and just keep saying it over and over again. And it's funny, because it's changed now but for me it's been, “I'm strong, I am powerful, I can do this. I am strong, I am powerful, I can do this.” And I just kept saying that over and over again. And I finished and I didn't finish as fast as I wanted. My feet were bleeding, I think I nearly threw up, but I crossed the finish line just being like, if you had told me six months ago that I was going to be able to finish 26.2 miles, I would have laughed in your face.
People from high school now tell me, like, I never thought you would have become a runner of any kind. I always used to tell people, “I'm not a runner, my body could never do that.” And once I did it, it was this feeling of, like, what else have I been lying to myself about? What else have I been hiding from because I was scared? Yeah, for me, it was this sense of limitlessness, like all of a sudden there were no expectations I could put on myself, because I felt like I could expect anything.