I don’t think it’s any secret that I like to run. Today is Wednesday and since my last post on Friday I’ve logged just over 21 miles so far and I have a half marathon coming up on Saturday. Lately I feel like I have a race every weekend and when I am not getting ready for a race I am anxiously waiting for the next time I can put on one of my many pairs of sneakers and run out into the world. (I have a sneaker problem – I can’t stop buying them.)
Running wasn’t always something that I connected so closely with – it was just another form of exercise. Sometimes when I was little and needed a time out or something, my dad wouldn’t send me to my room or take away television privileges – he would have me run around the house 3 or 4 times (sometimes even with some push-ups in between!). But even then, as much as I may have hated it because it was something that I was being told I had to do, I remember that I usually felt calmer, better, more relaxed after. And I always loved running around like a banshee in the backyard, or in the park, or as part of a game with friends or my sisters.
I ran a bit in high school as part of conditioning for tennis and in college at one point made it a routine to run 3-6 miles a day, but there was still something missing – it was exercise because we lived in our bikinis in college and wanted to stay in shape. There was something superficial, and therefore strained and forced, about running. But it was always a good escape and a way of getting more level-headed when the chaos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness got a little overwhelming!
It wasn’t until I started running in NYC a few years after I moved here that my view of running changed. It became less of a monotonous exercise or punishment that I was inflicting upon myself and more of a calming mechanism. It became my time. My time to think, to push myself, to fully break away from everyone and everything and reconnect with whatever I needed to reconnect with. Just me, my mind and nature. (It actually took a long time before I would even consider running with anyone – just the thought of it seemed like a gross invasion of my privacy. And there are times when it still feels like that, but other times having a running partner just adds more to the run. Especially the right running partner.) At that time, I didn’t run extremely regularly. Usually just to clear my head whenever I needed it.
Anyway – I was out running the 6.2 mile outer loop at Central Park one day after a particularly tough day. I needed to clear my mind and decompress and running was my escape, as it had been in the past. Before long, I realized that I was almost done with the loop – I hadn’t even stopped to walk at either of the two hills that usually tried to kill me each time I attempted them. I went past the beginning of the loop and did almost 8 miles. That was when things started to change. It was a little victory – stress on the “little”. In the grand scheme of everything it didn’t make any kind of difference. People run more than that, faster than that, with no sweat. But in my world, it was the beginning of something. I was a little more self-aware. I knew myself just a little bit better, and I had done something that I had not done before, that I hadn’t really known that I was capable of doing. In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami talks about that feeling after he completed a 62 mile run. While I haven’t (yet ;-)) run that far, I get what he was saying:
That’s when I started pushing myself more. Why stop there? Why not try to run better or faster or harder than the last time and see what I could do? Before long I started to see what I was really made of. I was in competition with myself while learning more about how to excel – experimenting with different strides on different terrains and inclines, different sneakers, reading up on heart rates and strides per minute. I found myself running 10 miles at a time with ease, pushing it to 15 and even 20 miles. I’m not saying that it was always fun but even through the exhaustion or the pain, I was learning something. Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek uses a quote by William James in his book Eat and Run to sum that up: “Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” If I had never pushed myself, I might still be content with 6.2 miles at a time and never really know the full extent of what I could do. I might never be training for the triathlon and expanding those methods to biking and swimming. One day I might even break through that wall of obstruction when it comes to swimming. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Also, I think the discipline I’ve gotten through testing myself with running has also translated to other parts of my life which is always a good thing!)
I recently just finished Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Everyone around me is probably so sick about me talking about it, but I loved that book and totally recommend it. Even if you don’t consider yourself a runner, it’s worth it. I promise. The hidden tribe is the Tarahumara in Mexico – the running people. That’s what they do, they run. A ton. Sometimes 100 miles a day! They get it:
I don’t know – that passage totally resonated with me.
I like the feeling I get after a long run, or after sprinting a mile trying to break my record (now 7:33). Each race and run presents another opportunity to do something new in my little world. Scott Jurek said that “Every single one of us possess the strength to attempt something he isn’t sure he can accomplish.” I chose to attempt pushing the boundaries with running, which led me to the triathlon – to where I am right now. It has also led me back to ballet and to venture from boxing into Muay Thai. It’s a busy schedule, one that a lot of people don’t understand, but I wouldn’t change it!
But no matter how far or how fast or how often I run, I’m pretty sure this will always be true: