April 19, 2014

Why I run (even when I'm not being chased, or about to miss a bus)

For most of my life, I loathed running. I was the chubby, asthmatic kid who was the last to finish laps in gym class. As the workouts got tougher, I showed up at school with an inhaler and notes written on my dad's prescription pad: Monica cannot run.

I could walk for miles, but as soon as I raised my pace to a jog, my chest would burn, I'd gasp for air, and I'd feel a stabbing pain in my side.

Why do people make a hobby out of this? I wondered.

I once thought competition was the purpose of running: competing with others, competing with oneself for time and distance records. I assumed my 30-something friends were entering 5ks and half-marathons and mud runs because they needed goals. After pushing forward through high school, college, marriage, family, we had run out of milestones and needed something to give our lives forward momentum before retirement.

Competition may motivate some runners, but it's pretty minor for me.

A year and a half ago, I joined a 5k training group at my gym. We started with intervals of running for 30 seconds, then walking for 90. It was awful. I probably used my inhaler a dozen times that first night. For some reason, I kept going back. 

I was consistently at the back of the group, even the senior citizens easily outran me, but the intervals got longer and less painful with each session. I still remember the first time I ran a mile without stopping. It was cold, dark, and kind of miserable - yet I was elated and knew that, in some strange way, I was hooked.

Last year, I ran two 5k races: The first took me 45 minutes; the second took 35. These are not remarkable times; I am not being recruited by the Olympic track-and-field team.

Today, I completed my first run of the year along my favorite course. It's a 4.5 mile trail that takes me around a lake. I walked up the hills. It took me nearly an hour to finish, and I set no personal records.

But I don't run to break speed goals.

I run for my health. It helps me manage my weight. The more I run, the less I need my inhaler. 

I run because I love the way I feel afterwards. It gives me a shiny inner glow that lasts for the rest of the day.

I run because it feels meaningful to throw my energy into something that I'm not very good at. I'm all for cultivating my strengths, professionally and academically, but I love making space in my life for something that is difficult, and that I pursue for joy rather than accomplishment. I also need my kids to know that I'm OK with training hard, giving my best effort, and finishing in the last half of the race.

I run to connect with my surroundings, to fill my lungs with fresh air, to crest that hill where I see lakes on either side and remind myself how incredibly awesome it is that I get to live here, in the place I would rather be than anywhere else on earth.

I run with my music and my thoughts. I notice the way the trail curves and straightens before me, and it makes me think of the times in my life when I've seen a clear path and the times when a curve has obscured my way. No matter what, I always get to where I'm going.

I run past houses I could only dream of living in. This used to be my "lottery" house, but I've since decided I'll use my Powerball proceeds to travel, make improvements to my current place, and do generous things for my family and friends.

I run to remember my body. It's easy for me to get so wrapped up in my job and my thoughts and the many screens of my digital reality that my body becomes an afterthought, a mere conveyance for carting my brain around. When I'm running, I might still have my smartphone strapped to me (providing music and recording my progress), but I am firmly in the physical world. I feel the pavement beneath my feet, I feel my heart pounding, and I feel alive in the most basic, physical, essential way.

I run because, I discovered, that chest-pressure-side-pain-think-I-might-die feeling is temporary, and there is joy on the other side of it.

I run because I can.

No comments: