What Running Taught Me About Life
Some things are an acquired taste. I used to hate running, coffee, and Christmas carols, but now I like all three (okay, so maybe I just tolerate Christmas carols).
I’ve never been the most athletic person. I played tennis most of my youth and got pretty decent at it, but you don’t get buff playing tennis, you just get tennis elbow. There were times in PE when I struggled to finish the mile run in time. At some point I was diagnosed with athletically induced asthma, but I think I was just out of shape (not to say it isn’t a real thing, I just don’t know if I had it).
Fast forward a few years, I get to college and start rock climbing, playing racquetball, and playing intramural ultimate frisbee. I loved the controlled moves of climbing, the fast paced game of racquetball (there isn’t a lot of room to run in a 20 x 40 foot box), and the teamwork and skill needed for ultimate frisbee. The problem with ultimate is you have to run. I tended to be a handler (mostly throwing, moving the frisbee up the field), but you still have to run to get into position and you’ve got to be able to keep up with the person you are guarding when you switch to defense. I enjoyed the game so much I overlooked the running and I tried to make up for my lack of speed with my tenacity – just don’t ask me to guard a track star.
The Turning Point
So for the longest time I told people I hated to run unless you stuck a frisbee out in front of me, like a carrot in front of a mule. Then my buddy Matt decided he was going to train for a 10k and that he needed someone to torture with him. Somehow he talked me into it and so we began running a couple of times a week. At first I could barely make it a few miles and we were supposed to run 6.2 for the race! My lungs would burn and my legs would hurt, but Matt would encourage me to press on. After a few months though, I hit a turning point. I could carry on a conversation while we ran, my legs didn’t ache for days, and there was something even calming about going for a run.
By the time the race came around, we were running around 5 miles pretty consistently and I felt good about tackling the 10k. We drove up to Berry College, lined up with a couple hundred other people, and off we went. We looked down at our watches at mile 1 and realized we had sprinted out of the gate. We slowed our pace a little and settled in to a good rhythm. About half way through Matt’s legs cramped and we walked and stretched until we could pick the pace back up, but we stuck together. Rounding the last corner we saw the finish line and Matt said let’s give it all we got and so we took off. Matt sprinted ahead and I forced my jelly legs to push forward and crossed the finish line, exhausted and exhilarated.
What really got me over the hump and into running was community. It was a good friend inviting me into an experience, suffering with me along the way, and celebrating with me as we achieved our goal. Now I actually enjoy running – not always, but most of the time I enjoy getting the exercise and calming my mind. Mostly I enjoy running with other people. Once I got in shape enough to stop sucking wind the whole time, we had great conversation. Much life has happened between the foot falls of friends – talking about marriage, struggles at work, ideas for the future.
I’ll still go out and run on my own, but as often as I can I send out a text to one of my running buddies to see if they can join me because it is always better running with a friend. Our conversations keep my mind occupied and the miles pass faster.
One of the unexpected things I discovered while running is how valuable a challenge can be. When training for any race or practicing for any sport, there is a wall you have to break through to achieve your goal. There are days when I can go out and run 6 miles without much thought and two weeks later I can do the same run and my legs feel like cinderblocks and I have to walk half way through. When I get tired or my legs are burning at mile 11, I have to make a choice to push through. It is a lot easier when you’re running with someone because you know they are suffering there with you.
I was sharing with my friend Justin recently on one of our runs that having to overcome that desire to stop and walk or to push through the pain was creating something deeper than physical stamina (it is as much mental as it is physical), it was creating perseverance. How many times in my life do I have to do something that either I don’t want to do, or is uncomfortable or painful, but I know will produce good results. Running has taught me to push through the discomfort and keep my eyes fixed on the prize, on whatever is on the other side of the pain that is worth it.
Since that first race, I’ve completed two half marathons and my buddy Matt is now trying to rope me into a marathon. I keep whining about it, but eventually I’ll cave because I know it will be worth the pain and on the other side I’ll have found an adventure and a deeper friendship than I would have otherwise known.
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