I am now in full training mode for the Philly Marathon on Nov 22nd. I’m also trying to run the required 9 races with the NY Road Runners so I can automatically qualify for the NYC Marathon in November of 2010! If I’m still running after that, I’m thinking of Chicago Marathon in 2011.
It seems that much of my life is now revolving around my running schedules, which has caused me to pause and reflect on this running lifestyle. Why do I run so much? Why am I training for these marathons? What is the reason that I am essentially scheduling my life around running? All good questions, and here are some of my reflections regarding these questions.
I was always an athlete. I played high school varsity soccer, and Ultimate Frisbee which I continued through college. We (Bronx HS of Science) were the High School National champions in ultimate, and we had a pretty good Ultimate team at Columbia U. I competed at a pretty high level, which required a certain amount of conditioning. For recreation, I played a lot of basketball, tennis and football. Competitive sports were an integral part of my life.
I have been out of College since 1984, and I have been married for 19 years. During that time the amount of sports I have been involved in has declined inversely proportional to my blossoming career and increasing number of children. Those tennis games I used to play inpromptu, and the weekend basketball games with friends, gradually faded away with the increasing responsibilities and time demands that come with the advancement of one’s life stage.
With the declining availability of time for leisure, my waist size began to grow and I noticed the change in my body shape to that of a middle age person. Worse yet, I began to feel like an older person, feeling that aching back in the mornings, and finding no shortage of physical issues, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. Mind you, I was never a particularly large person, but time does take a toll on your body, unless you are diligent about up-keeping it. I saw myself physically turning into my father, complete with an old age paunch.
When my wife decided to train for a 10K race about 2 1/2 years ago during a job transition, I could not fathom running so much or so long. But she talked my sister and sister-in-law to join her and all three women completed the race, and we were so proud of them. After that, my wife continued her running, and she has tried to talk me into running with her, which mostly fell on deaf ears. To me, running was a means to an end. You either ran because someone is chasing you (New Yorker), or because you are trying to win a game (Athlete). Running for the sake of running did not connect with me.
One day, for whatever reason, probably because I felt like I was getting older, or because my wife managed to guilt me into doing it, I joined her on a run. The first mile felt pretty good, and I managed to stay with her, but by the 2nd mile, I was starting to feel concerned that I would have to run equal distance back to the car. My wife gracefully let me turn back while she continued her run, and I managed to run-walk back to the car. Something clicked that day. Perhaps it was my bruised ego, or perhaps I was feeling the competitive bubble starting to percolate in my brain. For whatever reason, I wanted to run.
That was 2 years ago, and I have been running consistently for the past 2 years through all 4 seasons and through rain/snow/heat. Over that time, I have come to love running. I love the feeling of my body being able to cover such long distances, as well as being able to sprint hard to feel my body move so fast, despite the fact that I am 47 years old. Running has also become a spiritual experience for me, giving me a sense of connection to God, as I have written about it in my previous blogs.
Currently I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. The gut I used to have all melted away with the calories expended during running, and my chest is no longer concave as they once were. Even my arms and legs have developed muscle tone, so I no longer look like a wet chicken in shorts. And most importantly I feel great – I feel like a lean, mean, running machine. When I go to my son’s soccer practice, I am happy to run around helping out the coaches even though I had just run 8 miles that morning, because I have so much energy.
So, back to the question of why I run and why I am training for the marathon…
Running is like doing the dishes. It is a finite activity that you can do on your own, at your own pace, and feel a sense of accomplishment when you are done. Many people do not run because of how they feel before they start, but because how they feel when they are done. It feels good to have done something that is good for you, and makes you look and feel great. Especially at a time when I can use all the positive reinforcement I can get, running has proven to be a great salve for my ego.
Second reason I run, and this one was not as apparent to me as the first, is because running has reignited a sense of competitiveness in me. At first I was totally into the whole spiritual aspect of running, but slowly, I have also come to appreciate the challenge of seeing what I (my body and mind) is capable of doing. Can I run more than 6 miles at sub-7 minute pace? Can I really break the 6:30 minute per mile pace? Could I run13 miles? Could I run 26 miles? Slowly I began to feel myself challenging myself to push a little harder to see how fast and how far I can run. It is not a competition against anyone else, but purely for myself. At the end of the day, I suppose it is all about a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.
I was watching an Iron Man Triathlon program on TV once, and there was a grandfather, who participated in the Iron Man race, and completed it. When asked why he did it, he said that he wanted to show his grandchildren that it is important to push the boundary of your limitations to see what you are capable of achieving. Oh, I forgot to mention that grandpa was blind and so he had to race with a guide. At a time in my life when sedentary lifestyle is so easy to sink into, I am choosing to push my limits, because when I do, I feel like I am truly alive.
My body, along with my spirit and life, is a gift of God. So, when I am appreciating this gift to my best ability, I believe I am honoring God and God’s gift to me.
This week, I made a change in my marathon training schedule. Instead of a weekly training schedule where I am pushing my body to the limit with tempo runs, cruise and speed intervals, and uphill runs, this new schedule allows me to have 2 days of easy runs, so that I can still have some time to simply enjoy running, and to reconnect with the spiritual aspect of running that is so important to me.
HJ, the Spiritual Runner