Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Running...What's It To Ya?

"You're in pretty good shape for the shape you're in!" - Dr. Seuss

This past weekend, I "celebrated" my birthday and as a birthday present to myself, I ran a tough 12 mile trail race that will literally suck the air out of your brain. Actually, it has nothing to do with a birthday present, it's just that the race was scheduled the day before my birthday, so I figured I'd close the old year with a bang. Running that race, and the other solo runs of the Holiday weekend put me in a reflective state--thinking about my life, what's important, where I came from, where I am and where I'm going. That's what having another birthday does! I mean, c'mon, this was the 67th anniversary of me coming into this crazy world. From the moment I was born, I guess the majority of my plans have taken a right or left turn from their intended destination. Oh, not a hard, 90 degree turn most of the time, but rather a wide turn like a giant steamship trying to avoid the iceberg up ahead. Oh, there was nothing deep about my reflectiveness...nothing with a large meaning, but just
After running for over 3 decades, I think often about where running has brought me. It's about far more than lacing up the shoes and putting one foot in front of the other in pursuit of my own goals. Running has helped make me who I am. Running is not me, but it is definitely a major part of me. I've said often in this blog that running (or whatever your interests are) can't help but define your very nature. Running brings peace amid the occasional chaos of life. I remember when I worked in a clinic that allowed me to run at lunch, how much I looked forward to that escape. When I'm out the door, problems can disappear, even if only for an hour or so, and I return with a new sense of calm and better perspective. 

Running provides quiet times of reflection. Life often gets so busy that simple reflection takes a conscious effort. When I run, I have time to reflect. I often think about my dad. He never saw me run and passed away in 1982, one year after I did my first ultramarathon. As the years pass, he gets bigger in my mind, and thankfully, those memories stay crisp. I think of him often because I want to think of him often and running on a smooth single track trail provides the perfect opportunity for me to do just that. 

Running provides friendship. Most of my closest friends today are fellow runners who I see every Saturday and/or Sunday. But it's more than that. Like any runner, I can go to any race and even if I don't know anyone there, I'm still surrounded by friends. I meet folks that I've jabbered with on Facebook, but never officially met "in life". I'll introduce myself to folks more often than not with "I'm sorry, but I don't remember your name". At least these days I can blame it on age! We all share the many threads that make up our running selves.

Running has allowed me to figure out what I'm made of. Whether at mile 20 of a marathon, mile 35 of a 50 miler or mile 80 of a 100-miler, I always learn at these critical junctures in a race what's deep inside of me and will it keep me going forward. Oh, it's not an instant revelation of "So, this is what I'm all about", but rather one that hits you sometime long after the race has finished. You think about those dark moments in the run when the thoughts of quitting really didn't sound that bad, but something said "Ha, that's a good one" and on you pushed. One's character often comes out in times of great stress and suffering. And I've come to realize that, amid my flaws, I must have a strong character and the courage to endure because as much as I usually want to, I will hardly ever FULLY pack it in. But man, I sure can whine a lot during a race (just ask Moha). 

Running allows me to plan my day. My early-morning run  before the sun rises takes off the edge, making me just tired enough to focus on what's in front of me. My job as a Physical Therapist is not necessarily hard, but trying to convince some of these folks to exercise when they have no more desire to exercise than the Man in the Moon can be taxing, especially to somebody like me who loves to sweat! On the mornings I run, I can approach my patient load with a "Get-through-them-one-at-a time" attitude. 
Running brings emotion. Not the wide swing of emotions, but the ones that catch you by surprise. Running doesn't usually make me sob, although some of my runs have been pretty sad, but I remember when I finished my first Boston Marathon in 1995, I had a very unexpected, but controlled rush of happy tears. It just meant a lot. It was a different scene when I crossed the finish line at the Pikes Peak Marathon...instant uncontrolled sobbing. Not sure if it was just a release of emotions from finishing the toughest race I can remember being in, or if I was just relieved to get off the damn mountain before the thunderstorm got me. Another emotion is just one big "WOW". This happens every time I come to the top of a trail ridge where you can see what seems like forever. We have one such place here at Oak Mt called King's Chair. If you're blessed enough to make it to the top of the Blue Trail, you can literally see for 40 miles across the valley. If you don't say WOW to that, your heart is harder than the stone that King's Chair is made of!
Running brings out my competitiveness. I know, I'm 67 years old, and I pretty much finish last or daggum close to it in every race. I'm not racing anybody, but I get out there and think I'm moving along pretty good and although it might be pushing times I could clock with a sundial, I am running with (not against) my younger self. In the race I did Saturday, climbing up the 15-20%, one-mile long, White Trail (twice) is a killer. Back in the Day (God, I hate that term), I could run up at least part of it. Saturday, I looked like those newsreels of climbers taking their last steps before the conquering of Everest. But, I wasn't trying to conquer the trail this time. I was competitive to the point that if the mountain gave me anything, I would take it and give a big Thank You back. 

So I run knowing running makes me a better person, at least to myself. Those of us who have such a pursuit--be it painting, cooking, building model airplanes, etc.--I guess we're the lucky ones. We have an inner call that has to be answered. I don't want to make it more than it is, but to many of us, it is more than lacing up our shoes. 

I'll see you all on the roads and trails - AL

"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"

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