Last year, I ran a purposeful running series to allow you to share why you run. After it ended, my sweet (real-life) friend Leslie submitted her response, and I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to squeeze it in. I can certainly relate to her lessons learned, and I’m sure many of you can as well!
I always say that if I can run a marathon, anyone can do it. In the summer of 2006 I was the least likely person that you could imagine doing such a thing. Though I dabbled in running, I mostly decried its damaging effects on one’s joints (this is typical non-runner kvetching.) I took it up in the fall of 2006 because I needed something cheap (no gym membership required) and immediate ( there was a trail walking-distance from where I was taking classes) that I could do for exercise.
Running more than 5 minutes straight was quite taxing for me at the beginning of my journey. I use the term running loosely. It was more like staggering about, gasping for air, and wishing for death.
But we, my husband and long-suffering running partner, soldiered on. Me despairing of every step, he somehow tolerating my sour attitude. Despite all the complaining, within a few months I could run the entire three-mile loop! This was a revelation to me. I was running three miles! At that point, it seemed like the world was my oyster so I decided I was going to sign up for a marathon! I can’t imagine how ridiculous this sounded to those who know me. But through my endorphin-clouded high, it seemed the natural thing to do!
I began training for the 2008 Houston Marathon in the late spring of 2007. I found a running partner and we adopted a training plan. Soon I was running 12, 15, 18 miles! Me! I was doing it- the person who used to be put out by running for five minutes! And something quite incredible happened: I was actually enjoying myself. I’ve heard that running produces endorphins and all sorts of feel-good hormones. Let me tell you, whatever it is is highly habit forming! I was waking up before the sun (before the sun!) to go running (to go running!). These are things that I never ever thought I would be doing.
But somewhere amidst all that exhilaration was a small, unvoiced hope that I’d fall and break my ankle so that I could sleep in, and, you know, do whatever is the opposite of running 15 miles.
As exciting as it was, there was still a tension there, an aversion to getting up while it’s still dark and covering distances most sensible people would only do by car. One day, as I was searching for some excuse to get me out of this ridiculousness, I heard myself say (in my mind) “Just quit. No one’s making you do this. Just quit if you want to.” Another inner voice (there are many- and they often argue!) just as quickly responded: “No! I don’t want to quit!”
And there’s the rub: most things worth doing are hard and there are always reasons not to. This is not a revolutionary revelation. Most people probably learn this earlier and more gracefully than I did (and am still doing). But for me, it was a revelation. I accepted that no one is going to make me do the hard things. I would have had no one else to blame if I’d decided to quit.
Many times there are excellent reasons not to embark on a challenge. In my current season of life with two small children and a husband with a very busy schedule, I do have to choose to opt out of certain things. I was flirting with the idea of doing a half Ironman to take place eight months after my second baby was born. I quickly realized that a half Ironman just will not fit into my life at the moment. But half Ironman or not, the point, and the thing that my marathon taught me, is that I can’t blame anyone or anything else for the consequences of my decisions.
My experience was a very physical lesson about commitment. I still rely on that internal dialogue regularly. I recently had to adopt a 5:30 am exercise routine because I was having trouble making it to the gym with my two kids during the day. Every morning when the alarm clock goes off, I have to make a choice. Some days I do sleep in- and that’s okay. Like the half Ironman, making a less ambitious choice is sometimes the better option! But most days I get up because I know that if I drop the habit it will be because I chose to turn off the alarm.
I used to like running in the rain because I knew that the only other people out on the track would be the truly committed people. I felt a sort kinship with those runners I passed, each of us wiping rain from our eyes as we nodded hello. I feel like we shared something- a love of running. But more than that, an attitude. I feel like this “no excuses” mentality is distinct to runners because they are out there in rain, snow, sleet, and hail. There are reasons everyday not to go, but you have to go now or you never will.
I ran regularly for about three years including a second marathon in 2008 in New York. These days, I don’t actually run much. My exercise habits have evolved since 2009 due to two pregnancies (I am not a pregnant runner) and now two young children. But, if I may humbly say before an audience of true runners, I still consider myself a runner at heart. The attitudes that I learned while training for my marathon have shaped my life since. I can’t control everything but I can control my attitude, own my choices, learn from them, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Why do I run? Because running taught me that sometimes there’s drudgery involved in running and in life, but often times all of that putting one foot in front of the other turns out to be incredibly satisfying.
What hard things have you done that were still worth doing?