Mary Grace Mangano on Running as Self-Care

[Editor's note: The thought of starting to take better care of yourself can be daunting but it doesn't have to be. These interviews feature individuals who have successfully incorporated self-care into their daily routines. Read their stories, be inspired by them, and take on the challenge of self-care!]

Mary Grace Mangano is a high school English teacher in Harlem, New York, having also taught middle school Language Arts and Religion in Chicago. She has written for Verily, Darling Magazine, the Blessed is She Blog and other publications. She is passionate about education, loves writing poetry, running, reading, exploring, and learning new things. You can discover her writing on her website and find her running alongside friend Grace Carroll on Instagram @_solefaith.

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1. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
My name is Mary Grace and I am a daughter, sister, friend, and constant learner. I teach high school English at a Catholic independent school in East Harlem, New York City. As difficult as teaching is, I truly feel as though it is a vocation for me and my students certainly help me to be a better, more patient person. I live in one of the biggest cities in the world, though I never expected to end up here. I try to take advantage of the numerous parks, museums, coffee shops, and interesting events that the city has to offer.

Though teaching keeps me busy, I started Sole Faith, a running and faith ministry, just over a year ago with my friend Grace (yup, Mary Grace and Grace!). We share on Instagram about our workouts, our prayers for each other, our motivation, the recipes we like, and what makes us laugh. We even planned and led the first-ever faith-based running retreat last April after the Holy Half marathon in South Bend, IN.

2. What is a typical day like for you? 
A typical day for me begins at 5:45 when I wake up.

I’ve always been a morning person and truly love those quiet minutes at the start of my day. I eat breakfast while I pray through the daily Mass readings and reflect on them with the Blessed is She devotional.

I walk or take public transportation to school and arrive between 6:45 and 7:00. Then, it’s a whirlwind of a day teaching multiple classes, covering lunch duty, tutoring or proctoring a club after school, and of course grading and planning. I aim to go home between 5:30 and 6:30, after which I like to go for a run or do some other type of workout (right now I’m training for the NYC Marathon and fundraising for my students)! After that, I shower and make dinner. I usually read, watch a show, or call a friend in the evening, and I end my night with prayer.

3. What has your relationship to self-care been like throughout your life? Did you always make it a priority?
This question really makes me pause. Has this always been something I prioritize? I think it’s been an ebb and flow. Some seasons have been better than others. Looking back, I can see how my parents set a good example for my sisters and me. My dad made sacrifices like driving a long commute to work so that we could be near friends and enjoy time together as a family on the weekends, when we would hike or bike or go to a museum. They consciously limited our “screen time” (though that wasn’t a phrase back in the 90s) and encouraged us to play sports or to go outside in our backyard creek.

When I left for college, I had to learn to do this on my own. I work best when it’s quiet, so I’d often be in the library for long hours. But I took dance breaks and stretched my legs with walks around campus (you can seriously ask my roommates about the dance breaks).

The season of life that was most challenging for me in terms of self-care was when I first started teaching. I was so overwhelmed and didn’t know how to keep up. I worked on the weekends and got little sleep. Everything suffered - my prayer life, my relationships, my physical health. I realized that I needed to be filling myself up in order to pour out myself in service to my students and community.

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4. What is your favorite self-care practice?
It’s actually hard for me to pick just one! But the first thought I have for this is running. I wrote about the ways running brings me peace and has become part of my spiritual practice over on Grotto Network, but suffice it to say that running allows me to “turn off” my busy brain in a way that other things do not. Reading allows me to escape, time with family or friends brings me comfort, but running restores my peace.

For some reason, my mind finds a natural rhythm where I can pray, or simply move my body without thinking too much. It has taught me so much -- about discipline, listening to my instincts, responding to each situation, persisting -- and also makes me feel powerful. My body and soul feel the most united when I am running.

5. Is there any area that you struggle to take care of yourself? How do you want to grow in that area?
If I’m being truthful, there are probably many areas where I can grow. I think for me, though, the biggest area of growth is investing my time instead of just using it. I have always been someone who has a hard time saying “no.” I want to be everything to everyone, but that means I stretch myself too thin and I’m actually not giving my best self to anyone. In order to take care of myself, as well as honor other people, I hope to be more honest about my time. I may want to say “yes” to every opportunity, but instead I should reserve that for those that I truly value. I want to give my all, but I can’t do that all the time.

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6. What do you wish you could tell your younger self when it comes to self-care?
I wish I could tell myself always to make decisions for myself and also that I am not alone. These two things robbed me of some of my peace when I would agonize over what others might think or compared myself to other people. But I also believed often that I was alone and that I was “too much” something or “not enough” of something else. A big part of learning to take care of myself has included getting to know myself, viewing my emotions as important information about my wants/needs, and being comfortable asking for help. Finding community has also been critical -- which is why I’m so grateful for our @_solefaith community of awesome people who lift each other up in faith and in fitness.

7. Lightening Round!
a. Coffee or tea?
Coffee!

b. Current favorite TV show?
Always The Office!

c. Early bird or night owl?
Early bird.

d. Favorite quote?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver

e. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?
Smooth but I like almond butter better!


Thank you, Mary Grace!