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The Secret to Running

Posted Feb 25 2011 5:30pm

“Why do you run?” Have you been asked that before? Sometimes I think people ask this rhetorically (or perhaps mockingly). They couldn’t care less about my answer. They have already judged it to be something they have no interest in doing, something in which there is no value, and therefore whatever my answer is just wisps gently over their head, out the window, and down the street, carried off by the windoutside where it belongs.

But sometimes a person will talk to me about running, someone who has never run before, and he or she genuinely wants to know why. “Why do you run?” she might ask. “What is it about running that you like? Do you ever stop to walk? How long did it take you to be able to run 1 mile, 3 miles, 20 miles? How did you get started?” And perhaps most often, “How do you keep going when you feel tired?” I like to talk about running and share my storymy testimony, if you will, with someone who is interested. Running is a beautiful thing, and…well…something that beautiful should be shared.

One of my sisters came to visit me recently. She lives in Japan. Distance keeps us from seeing each other nearly as much as we would like, and we hadn’t seen each other in nearly 5 years. She is deep water, my oldest sister. The surface of her lake may appear still, but deep underneath that still, calm surface, the cold, dark-green waters are a constant swirl of motion. While she was herethat swirly, green-lakey sister of minemy husband teased us and said he was afraid to come into the same room once we got to talking. He said the two of us talked so fast that our words layered over each other and he couldn’t tell who was saying what. He said we were like to two hens in the farmyard chirp chirp chirping, heads bobbing this way and that, strutting back and forth in the kitchen. I would rather imagine the more fluid, cool movement of the deep water metaphor, particularly if it also applied to me, but he saw clucky birds. Ah, well, it was his metaphor. [[[[author's note: ok sorry. not metaphor...simile. Please forgive.]]]]

My sister and I talked a lot about running. She is writing a book about teenagers who are on a cross-country track team. She imagines what it would be like to run and incorporates it into her writing. Funny that she found a connection with running even though she has never done it. She has consulted with her oldest son and with me about the running in order to write accurately. I’ll admit, for someone who doesn’t run, she has done a nice job with her descriptions, though the kids in the story seem to run awful fast (ok so maybe that is my own limitations coming through into my criticism).

While here, my sister expressed her own interest in running. She’s really been wanting to do it, she told me, but was discouraged by the difficulty she had in pushing past that point when all she wanted to do is stop.

“I get to my mail box at the end of my little road and I want to stop,” she laughed and then sighed. She really seemed discouraged, as if the gift of running simply had not been bestowed upon her. I looked at her in amazement. Let me tell you. I have two older sisters. They are two of my favorite people on this planet, and they are also two of the most strong-willed, driven people I know. Now this sister of mine, who sat here now before me, left home at just 18 and supported herself while living in her own apartment and graduating from high school; she discovered God and married a missionary at 19 and left the States to do mission work all over the world; she gave up a material lifestyle that so many of us feel is necessary and raised three children (one is still home with her); she is one of the most spiritually balanced, confident, nonjudgmental people I know, and yet, she was telling me that she was discouraged because running is hard. Can you understand why I looked at her in amazement? …but I knew where she was coming from and I really did understand her discouragement. I felt the same way when I started.

“Running IS hard at first,” I told her. “You have to really want to do it. I think you know how to do something that you really want to do. If you really want to do it, then you will stick with it and keep practicing it and it will get easier.”

She laughed again and said, “I really do want to do it.”

“So you won’t have any problem,” I told her.

And really it is as simple as that, isn’t it? Perseverance and desire are as much a part of running as physical stamina or strength or even natural ability–perhaps even more important. Without either, running would be a hot, sweaty, stinky mess of torture. I mean, who really wants to get out of breath and feel overheated and feel rubbery in the legs and have his or her heart pounding like crazy if that’s all there is to it? But then again, it’s not like you run once around the block and instantly develop muscle tone in your legs and get rid of your muffin top and wipe out mood swings and depression either or win championships for that matter. You have to want to do it, and then you have to practice it.

When someone asks me how I can stand to run for 3 hours at a time or why I like running, and they really want to know the answer, I always say that same thing. “You have to want to do it, and then you practice it. If you want to do it, then you can do it too.” I don’t have some special kind of running gift. I am not fast, and I don’t even have envy-worthy endurance. To the outside world, I am just another member of the latest running craze, one of the millions who make up the jogging masses running very non-elite paces and clogging up the cup-littered streets of marathons from sea to shining sea.

But in my own little world, I run like a champion. I have the speed of Hermes and the endurance of Strenia. The wind is my running buddy, the trees and grass are my cheering spectators, the birds that zip about in the air above me are my coaches, and that distant blue sky is my finish line. Running is my connection with the earth, and that connection makes me feel balanced, and feeling balanced makes me happy. And so it is worth it to me to endure the physical discomforts, because my gain is exponential. I am able to run further than a mailbox at the end of the street because I want to and because I try…and try and try.

But I am going to tell you a little secret. This scene HERE, this beautiful, simple snapshot from a movie probably everyone on the plant has seen, is ground-zero for why I run today. It’s what planted the seed to start running when I saw it for the first time years ago. Silly I know. But all the same, it’s my secret to running.

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