I should title this article “Reflections while sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself and jealous of all the good holiday food everybody else gets to eat that I don’t,” but that’s a long title and a bit of a downer for this column.

Instead, I want to share with you a few thoughts on my running this past year. I’ve had a lot of time to think these last couple weeks since I’ve been recovering from having my tonsils removed. It was not an easy decision to have this surgery. The roadblock that held me back was knowing I couldn’t run for at least two solid weeks post-op, probably longer.

Really. I have suffered strep throat six times in three months and hesitated to take care of it surgically because I knew it would mean momentarily giving up the one activity I love most in the world. Even though I’ve run four marathons on antibiotics and felt less than stellar, the thought of not running at all was even less appealing.

One lesson I’ve learned is that running is more than a physical way to stay healthy for me. Running gives me structure and balance. I wake up, I run. During those runs, I prioritize the day, organize thoughts into potential articles, solve logistical car-pool issues and occasionally find clarity to life’s more foggy dilemmas.

It’s as if each stride is a windshield wiper brushing away the slush from my mind. Some people find inspiration while in the shower, I find mine on the road.

Needless to say, these last couple of weeks have been full of fog. It’s not the painkillers, either. I am finding it difficult to sift through the issues of the day. I look forward to getting back on the road and back to my old super-mom self. I’m sure my family is looking forward to it as well.

This year I have also learned taking a day or two off from running whenever there is a tiny bit of pain is a whole lot better than sitting out for a month or more with a serious injury. When my foot first began to ache, I ignored it. I dismissed it as nothing more than just one of the aches and pains runners deal with and toughed it out.

One month later I found myself staring in horror at an X-ray that clearly showed a stress fracture trying to heal. Had I taken recovery more seriously and paid a little more attention to the dull ache at the top of my foot, August and September might have been a bit more fun and a lot more productive.

I have nothing to prove to anybody. “Muscling through” an injury is not worth the price the body demands in the end. I’m looking at the big picture. I would rather sacrifice my short run today to make sure I’m still running when I’m old and creaky. Thus, the decision to go through with tonsil removal. Two weeks of torture is far better than a lifetime of sore throats, aches, fevers and the side effects of mountains of antibiotics.

Looking back at the 2011 marathon season, I’ve also begun to understand another side of myself. I am a social person. I love being around others, especially those who are as passionate about running as I am. I love talking about anything running related: races, gear, training plans, books, nutrition, even running horror stories. I imagine when I talk running with many of my non-running friends, they get that same glazed-over look in their eyes that I do when someone tries to discuss with me their passion for stamp collecting.

For this reason, I love the race scene. To be surrounded by others of my species is worth the entry fee alone. I am allowed, even encouraged, to let my inner running geek free. Nobody looks at me with disdain when I delve into the ever important debate over compression socks worn during a race. No one rolls their eyes when I recount my “Miracle at Mile 9” story from last year’s St. George Marathon. No, these are my people.

I used to classify myself as a solo-runner, but no longer. When given the choice, I choose running with friends, old or new. I met a lot of people at races this year and only ran one marathon solo. It was also my worst.

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So, at the end of the year, I find myself a little different than I was 12 months ago. My focus has shifted as running has become as much a therapy session as it has been a workout. I’m a bit more cautious as my perspective has grown. I’ve been surprised by the extrovert in me and embraced the community of runners that surround me.

It’s been a year of peaks and valleys. A lot of good mixed with a little bad, but mostly good. I’ve made a lot of strides, pun intended, and I hope these new realizations of myself as a runner will make the 2012 running year the best yet.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mom, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner whose family is as eager to see her run again as she is. Really, she needs to get out of the house.