Sunday, April 21, 2013


This blog post was written a few weeks ago but with the recent tragedy surrounding the Boston Marathon I wanted to pass on my deepest sympathies to those who suffered loss on what is normally a day full of joy and triumph.  Runners are tough, they know how to rally their inner troops and I know that they will find purpose in spite of tragedy and be inspired by the many acts of kindness that were demonstrated as a result.  My prayer is that anyone that suffered physical or emotional devastataion will be blessed with an adequate level of peace and strength.

One of my great loves is running.  I am a recreational runner who occasionally runs marathons.  Since starting to run longer distances a few years ago, I have run nine marathons and several half-marathons.  I was lucky enough to find a group of ladies who inspire me, keep me company and mentor me along the way.  Our group is called the Generation Gap.  Our oldest member is 81 (she ran a marathon as recently as last year) and the youngest is in her twenties.  One member of the group has run 113 marathons and a second member is closing in on her 100th.  Most members of the group have qualified for Boston at one time or another and have run dozens and dozens of marathons.  Collectively, there is much wisdom and experience in my group.  I, however, am not one of the experienced and wise.  In comparison to my running friends, I am one of the relative newcomers; the novice.  In my early fifties now, there is most likely not a Boston marathon in my future, and I don’t fantasize about running across the finish line for the 100th time.  I will leave those amazing accomplishments to my wonderful, dedicated friends.  I am not a fast runner but I have found over the past few years that I can be strong and consistent and find a sense of satisfaction and pride in what I CAN do.

 However, this past year, life has gotten in the way of my running.  Due to a variety of circumstances, I have become too inconsistent to improve;  too inconsistent to even be a good, steady runner.  Just when I think I am back in the swing of things, something else happens to keep me out for a week or even a month.  Running is one of those “use it or lose it” types of activities.  I have been "losing it" consistently for about a year now.  My level of discouragement is high; however, I have come too far to quit and if I quit, I will never get it back.  Did I mention I am in my fifties?  Need I say more? 

The thought occurred to me to look at the lessons learned from running to help me over this hump.  I wrote these lessons down a few months ago for a talk I was asked to give.  Perhaps, revisiting these ideas could inspire me now to help keep me going.

In deciding to run a marathon you can’t just say “well, I will start running and we will see what happens.” You have to want it so bad that you are willing to do all the training runs regardless of your schedule.  You have to run through blisters, aches, pains and sometimes injuries. 

Training is work.  It was not meant to be easy.  Preparation for anything is usually very hard. 
What will the conditions be on race day?  Have I prepared for the heat, cold, hills, downhill terrain of the particular race you are running?

What is holding me back?  We all have weaknesses.  Am I making excuses for myself and  my weaknesses? Do I spend more time making excuses than it would take to make adjustments?  I run with a group of very strong runners.   Even the strongest of the strong has different issues and weaknesses.  Some are chronic and some come and go. 

My experienced marathon friends are a wealth of information.  I use them when I am out of answers.  What worked for them does not always work for me, but it gives me a good place to start and several options for solving a problem.  

Learn to expect surprises.  Some things happen so differently than we plan.  Often the experiences that result are so much better than our intentions.   Often we don’t know how close we are to having a really good experience.

Don’t compare.  If I had to keep up with an elite athlete or thought I had to qualify for Boston, I would get so discouraged I would not be able to run at all.  A few years ago, I couldn’t always keep up with two 70 year old runners in our group.  Talk about humbling!  Stay focused on the goals, the experience and don’t get discouraged if things aren’t happening the same way they do for others.  
A woman in my running group learned a technique from her father that served in the military.  The soldiers used this when they were exhausted.  It is called the “death march.”  Run 200 steps, walk 60.  Counting takes your mind off the problem and you keep going at a fairly consistent pace.   It is difficult to get running again if you have walked for too long.  Slow down the pace if getting discouraged.  Walk if necessary but keep the momentum going forward. 

Stop and help others who are in trouble.  They will appreciate the encouragement and it will help us focus less on our own problems.  We take turns being strong and can help those who feel like they can’t go on. 

We can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome. 

I have traveled on a few occasions with my running group.  Each time, they take the time to go see where the finish will be so that they can keep a visual in their minds as they race.  The goal will most likely not come to you, you have to keep moving towards it.  Start with the end in mind.

Judy Bullough is the oldest runner in our group.  She is 81 years old.  Three or four years ago in preparing for the St. George marathon, she fell during a 20 mile training run and landed on her chin.  Surprisingly, she didn’t break anything, but it broke her spirit.  She was very afraid.  Most of our runs begin early in the morning before it is light and she was just too afraid to run.  She started running in the daylight, then eventually returned to running in the dark, but would run while holding the hands of fellow runners until it was light.  Judy ended up training and running the St. George marathon six weeks after that fall.  The important thing about this story is that most 77 year old women would say they were done, but she worked hard to regain her confidence and get back out on the road.

I am always painfully aware of how far I am from the goal and it is about mile 18 when a marathon gets hard for me.  I remind myself frequently when engaged in something very difficult that I am, figuratively, at mile 18 in the challenge.  This is where the tough get going and I put my head down and dig from somewhere deep in my soul.  Surprisingly, one mile ticks off after another and eventually the task is completed.

In every race there are paid racers who help pace the group.  One of those pacers shared some research that measured the effects of smiling while running.  As it turns out, smiling helps fight fatigue.  Apparently, I need to smile more!

Excerpt from my journal:  “Only one person gets to run through the tape.  I am not that person.  My name is never listed with the top finishers.  They have never read my name to the crowd as I run across the finish line.  It is not the glory that you sometimes imagine in your head that it will be.  However, in my quiet way, I rejoice just as much as the winner because it is my own personal victory.  It is the prize for all of my hard work that is juggled between, family, church and work commitments and my own physical health and conditioning.  I get the same medal as the winners, the qualifiers and the elite athletes.  It is my race; it is the compilation of my goals and my effort.” 

In assessing my situation, I am reminded that although I have been trying to keep the momentum going forward, I cannot focus on anyone else’s race but my own.  I find myself at mile 18 of my own running challenge and need to bear down to keep going.  However, in contemplating getting over this hump, I had a new realization that is probably equally as important.

Time is an important part of a race.  There is a start time, a finish time, a time limit, a qualifying time, a P.R. time, split times and a time that roads can be closed to traffic.  There is a time and a season for all things and we are stewards over our time and we will be held accountable for how we use it. 

I realized that while running is a worthy and important goal for my personal health and fitness, taking care of a critically ill mother, helping an expectant daughter with a broken ankle and a new baby, spending time traveling with my family are also very worthy endeavors.  Because the two are not always compatible, something has to give.  While we try to be disciplined in our endeavors, there is a certain wisdom in knowing when to let go for a time.  I am a steward over my time and my priorities and I don’t want to win the race only to fail the test.  Fitness is not a just a goal but rather a lifestyle.  I have just run circles with my own running wisdom to find myself in a new and exciting place  -  a tranquil place of renewal. 


Aubrey said...

you are such a good writer. i will forever be grateful that you are a runner and invited me to join the group. here's to hoping we both have many more miles on the road.

Brynn said...

Finishing those races with you will always done of my very favorite memories. What a great moment in time and what a great way to accomplish such a great goal, crossing the finish line together!