So, I am a runner. I can't tell you how long it's taken me to say that! I began running almost two years ago when I thought I wanted to join the reserves and "do something for my country." Somehow, through God's divine Will, I was led away from that adventure but running stuck. I went from one mile a day to three and a long run on weekends. I went from running my first 5k fun run at a local high school (and feeling like I was going to die) to training for my first marathon this month. All of a sudden people I had known for years took up running and started running with me. We started running clubs, ran races together and formed running support groups online. Seriously, it was weird. But even with two half marathons under my belt, countless other races, and running paraphernalia scattered throughout my home, I still had trouble saying I was a runner.
I'm not exactly sure why. It wasn't that I had some elevated idea that only olympians could be runners. One of the things I absolutely love about running is that ANYONE can do it and enjoy the experience. It's something that you do by yourself, for yourself and at the same time can share and enjoy with all those around you. It's competitive but for me, the competition is really with myself. Can I better my time, can I push a little harder and still feel good at the end of a run, can I go a little longer than last time, a little further than before? And when I do, I can just be happy for me. And when I don't that's okay too, because not only is there always next time, but what the heck?! I'm running! Me?!
Which brings me to yesterday when I suffered my first real injury. To my knee. I spent all day yesterday and today icing, taking ibuprofen and elevating the stupid thing. And my marathon is only 26 days away! (How ironic! For a 26 mile race...). Already it feels so much better but can I stop dramatizing the fear that I won't be able to run this race? No! That I did some real damage and may be off the trail for weeks or even months? No! Ay ay ay.
It's like when I first brought my beautiful golden retriever home and he started to limp. Someone suggested he had hip dysplasia and though at the time I didn't know what that meant, I knew it meant something bad and assumed that I would have to put him down (don't ask, I think I tend to over-react to bad news). I spent the whole day fighting off tears, desolate that I would lose my beautiful puppy just after he had come into my world. Of course 11 years later he is still going strong and runs all my short distances with me like a champ. But for that one day in time I couldn't see anything but the bleakest of landscapes...
So to counteract this one-man self pity show (err one-woman show, I don't think men jump through emotional hoops like we do!) I'm going to focus on all the good running has brought to me thus far. Because I know even if I'm sidelined on this adventure for now, I'm still on it, maybe gimping along with my knee, but still going down this path.
1. Stress relief: Running has been such an outlet for tension these past 2 years! As I may go into at some point, life has been more than difficult at times and often the only way I could release that pent-up energy and pain was on an empty dirt road, running it off, until I was too tired to worry.
2. Clarity of thought: This goes along with stress relief. How much time you have to just think when you are at a slow jog for hours on end! And to put things into perspective. And pray. Many times I've started a long run confused or depressed about some issue in life only to finish with a new insight, resolution or grace to keep going.
3. Health: Along with health of mind has come health of body. I love that I can go for long bike rides or hikes without getting short of breath. I love that when I spend the day sight-seeing or at the beach I have the stamina to enjoy it all and take it all in. I love that when I mow the lawn or weed in the garden, I'm not down for the count after twenty minutes of manual labor. I love that when I'm playing with my 12 nieces and nephews I have the ability to laugh and interact whether it's the mental exertion of concentrating on toddler gibberish or playing ball in the backyard.
4. Appearance: Since starting running I have lost 25 pounds. I now look and feel healthy. I like how my clothes fit. I like being a "normal" size. And though I don't feel like a supermodel, I am comfortable with my appearance in a way I never was when I was overweight (actually, I'd probably be uncomfortable if I did look like a supermodel, never having looked that way before!).
5. Achievement: One thing I never thought when I was young was that I would be a runner. Those were long, skinny people who never got short of breath. Every milestone in my running life can be summed up in one caption: I CAN do this!
6. Friendship: Running has brought some beautiful friendships into my life, whether from early morning training runs, before race jitters, after race get-togethers or just casual conversation ("You run?! So do I!") I'm truly grateful for the friendships that have sprung or deepened from this sport.
7. Perseverance: Something that has crossed over into my life from running is perseverance. Running has taught me that even if today is a bad run, tomorrow will be a good one. Or even if this run started off bad, if I run long enough it will be a good one. I have had so many days where I wasn't feeling the love until the third or fourth mile, but once I hit that coasting point, everything was good. What if I had stopped at mile two? I would never know how great mile six feels.
8. Fidelity: I have also learned how difficult starting is and the fear of losing the ground I've gained. For instance if I stop running for two weeks, how painful will it be when I go back? Or in one month? I remember vividly how painful those first few weeks of running were! But if I stay faithful to the little runs, I can run the long ones no problem...sound familiar? Yes, I just compared running to Mother Teresa's quote, "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large."
9. Sacrifice: It's cold, it's rainy, it's dark, I have company, I'm on vacation!! I'm tired, I worked night shift, my throat hurts, my nose is runny, my muscles ache, I'm too hungry, I'm too busy, I'm too depressed...if there is an excuse I can make it! But some of my best runs have been when I had to overcome my self will and go out in the snow, take off in a foreign city, miss an hour of sleep, or overcome the total malaise that come with hormones once a month. Was it worth over-coming the temptation to self-indulgence? Every time, YES!
10. Hope: I wish I could remember exactly how he puts it but our pastor explains hope as an active virtue. If you really hope for something, you prepare for it, you plan for it, and you wait for it. Each small run is preparation for a long run and each long run is preparation for a race I hope to participate in. During a race I am pacing myself to reach the end as quickly as I can without burning out beforehand. The same thing happens in life. My hopes and dreams are yet to be realized in many ways. But I trust that with each challenge, each trial, and each opportunity that God is preparing me for something more, both in this life and in the next. He has a beautiful plan. Running has shown me that it is living in the moment that counts and I am finding this to be true in life also.
So with that in mind I am going to try and un-dramatize (de-dramatize?) myself. Who knows? Maybe in a few days I'll be up and running. Or maybe in a few months after surgery and physical therapy I'll be back on the trail. It doesn't really matter. Because I am a runner. And I know I'll be back.