When I first started running again four years ago, I did it for one simple reason — to finally shed that stubborn baby weight.

Not my own, of course, but the weight I like to blame on my two children.

I was surprised by how difficult it was to get rid of those last 10 pregnancy pounds and was searching for a convenient way to lose them once and for all. I had run off and on in years previous, but abandoned it when my knees began to hurt. I found myself drawn again to the simplicity of the sport and the high calorie-torch factor, and so I laced up my shoes and attempted to run that jiggly belly away.

It worked.

Logic would say that since my motivation to run was to lose weight, once I lost the weight I could stop running, right? Not exactly.

See, I found something during those runs that had been missing for a long time. Something far more valuable than a smaller dress size or toned calves: I found peace.

The other day my husband took my kids to get haircuts and I found myself alone in the house on a weekday afternoon. There was plenty with which to occupy myself. Please, there is never a shortage of laundry and dishes, but frankly, I just wasn’t feeling it.

OK, I never feel the call of housework, but I was particularly averse to it this day.

With no kids, homework duty, pressing phone calls or emails to return, I laced up my shoes, plugged in my iPod and went for a short run around the neighborhood.

I didn’t do it because I had to. I did because I needed to — mentally, that is.

There is a solitude that comes in the afternoon when most kids are at home doing homework, neighbors are driving home from work, and families are scrambling to get dinner ready. I don’t find this on Saturday mornings when everyone else is squeezing in their long runs on the weekend. I don’t find it on weekday mornings when I’m leading packed classes through strength training routines and cardio-blasting workouts.

Those workouts have their place and I love them dearly, but there’s something special about the afternoon run.

It’s during this small window of time that my running path is its most desolate and peaceful. This time of year, the sun goes down a littler earlier and the air is a little crisper. Some would say it’s downright cold.

I say it’s perfect.

Afternoon runs are my little space to breathe before the evening demands what energy I have left. I consider these runs like a recharge session. I come home sweaty, smelly and smiling. My mind is clear and ready to be filled with stories from school and tackle the day’s big and small questions.

Whatever is going on, for 30 minutes in the afternoon, I can just be me. I like me. Sometimes I miss me. Not the mom me. Not the wife me. Not the instructor me. Not the neighbor me. Just me.

While my physical self may not need these runs as much anymore, my mental and emotional self has grown quite dependent on them. These runs can be the glue that holds me together in a way only other runners would understand. During the holiday season, especially, this is good for everyone in my life.

On that note, it’s time for me to go glue myself back together.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who has been bound to the couch post-tonsilectomy for a week and is realizing that her sanity really does depend upon fresh air and fast legs.