I’ve been a runner for almost forty years. Just hearing those words sends shivers up and down my spine… that’s a long time! I still remember the first running shop I frequented, “The Runners’ Shop” – so original - to purchase New Balances sneakers, nylon tank tops, and Dolphin running shorts. That’s when Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Joan Benoit Samuelson dominated the “long distance” world.
To be honest, I never intended to be a runner. Instead, I wanted to teach aerobics. But to pass the certification course, I had to run two miles in under twenty minutes. At age 16, I only “ran” when it was time for the Presidential Fitness Tests in gym class. And, if I remember correctly, my efforts looked more like a jog than a sprint. In fact, the thought of rapidly putting one foot in front of another, over and over and over… well that made me cringe. But, because I wanted to be an aerobics instructor, I considered this running thing to be a necessary evil and started my “training” at the local YMCA… upstairs… on the heavily pitched indoor track… twenty-eight laps to a mile.
Then, a strange thing happened. Slowly, without even realizing it, this monotonous pastime hooked its addictive claws into me. Before I knew it, I’d joined the Y’s Runner’s Club, a group of “twenty and thirty-somethings”… I became their mascot of sorts!
My passion for running waxed and waned over the years. It became both a source of stress release and the cause of countless injuries. Yet, I prevailed… I kept returning to this solitary pastime, eventually graduating from carrying my bright yellow brick waterproof Sony Walkman to strapping my iPhone on my arm. I went through the “race phase,” torturing my young children by plopping them into their car seats as I’d “drive my long distance routes” in preparation for the next day’s run. But, I eventually realized that my body didn’t like the three hour pavement pounding sessions, so I made a compromise, promised myself that I’d stop signing up for races and reduce my mileage with the hopes of having a few more years to enjoy my favorite thing in the world… running.
Running’s taught me a great deal about the sport and life. For instance, it’s much easier on your joints if you choose trails instead of streets… but you must make sure to pick up your feet, or you’ll be bound to fall on your face from tripping on dust-covered rocks. Alignment is critical, because if you compromise your form, you’re bound to hurt yourself. More time running is usually not the answer; quality almost always trumps quantity. Pushing yourself too hard rarely ends well; if you’re not feeling it, take a break. But my favorite lesson I learned from running is the magical problem-solving element that occurs when you’re in the zone, listening to music, allowing random thoughts to come and go. Miraculously, upon returning, somehow you realize the solution to your most recent dilemma, figure out a better way, unearth the impossible answer.
Today, I had another “aha” running moment. First, one thing about running in Bend, Oregon…. there are no flat trails. You don’t just encounter a hill here and there; there are multiple undulations, both mild and steep, no matter your route. Inclines are inescapable. This morning during my “midweek loop,” I had an epiphany as I was approaching the home stretch, all up hill. Normally, this is where I start doubting myself, employing all sorts of strategies, from silently whining to picking spots in the path - such as purple flowers, small pine trees, emerging rocks - to break up the run. Or, I’ll fast forward to my favorite song, hoping the new beat will make it easier. But today was different. Instead of searching for markers to make this stretch more manageable or fumbling on my phone for the perfect music, I tried something else. I listened to what was playing, kept my head down, and ignored the hill ahead. I just ran. Before I knew it, I had reached the apex… the worse was over, but it wasn’t bad, not in the least. I actually enjoyedrunning uphill, possibly for the first time ever.
Afterwards, as I stretched out my tight hamstrings, I wondered what made today’s run different. Why didn’t I bitch and moan as I pushed myself upwards, noting that my pace slowed, my breathing increased, and my forehead was drenched with sweat? Then I realized the difference was my attitude, my approach. Instead of dread, I just accepted that the path ahead shifted from flat to elevated. I didn’t over think it, wonder if I would need to stop and walk, if drivers going by would think I was slow. None of that crossed my mind. For some unknown reason, I didn’t allow these normal mental intrusions to infiltrate my brain. Instead, something else happened. There were no expectations, so I just ran… and it was beautiful. Today’s experience gave me cause to ponder whether this new-found freedom could be applied to other areas of my life. What if I didn’t put ambitious outcomes on everything that I did? What if I didn’t set the bar so high, if I didn’t care about what others thought, if I didn’t fear? What if I just did my best, on that day, in that moment? Could I be okay with that? Honestly, I’m still grappling with this concept, wondering if it’s possible for me to limit those high expectations and nagging fears. But a side of me keeps insisting that it’s doable, that I can duplicate the feeling that I experienced this morning in other areas of my life. Is it reasonable to believe that my somewhat unrealistic beliefs have been hindering instead of helping? Has the thought of “running up life’s hills” impacted my ability to accept who I truly am, embrace my faults and my gifts?
If so, then it’s time to make some changes, shift my perspective, remember to do my best, but allow room for grace, for growth. This will definitely be a challenge, as it’s “teaching an old dog a new trick.” Yet when I consider the ease I felt this morning, why wouldn’t I want to experience that same sensation in other areas of my life? But could I surrender to the moment, allow what is to be enough?
Altering our behaviors is never easy, especially those that are engrained into our personas. However, maybe a tweak here and there might make a difference. I’m willing to give it a shot!Every human has four endowments - self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.