Thursday, March 31, 2011

How I became a Runner

For many of us, the day we started running and the realization that we are "runners" are two very different moments in our lives. Dr. George Sheehan, columnist for Runners World once wrote that "the difference between a runner and a jogger was a signature on a race application" but for me that was not true. As a matter of fact, prior to signing that application I had only ever really "gone running" once...and I hated it. Here's how I came to be a runner...

Several years ago, my wife decided to take up running. For reasons beyond my comprehension she decided that running needed to be a secret (I'll let her share that story with you some other time). In an effort to be supportive I decided that we would all come with her on every run. Not to run ourselves of course, but rather to show our support. And so for about two years we did just that. We threw a double stroller and wagon in the back of our van, loaded all the kids up and headed to a local trail made of crushed limestone. Chanda would head out until she reached about 75% of her goal distance and then turn around and head back to us. I would push a double stroller and pull a wagon until we met somewhere along the trail. Then we would turn around and walk back to the car together swapping stories about what we experienced along the way.

It was a beautiful arrangement! She got to run and I got to be supportive without actually having to run myself. But this beautiful secret life of ours came to an end when a dear friend confronted Chanda about her running after church one Sunday.

"How long have you been running?" She said.

"I never said that I was." Was the only response that Chanda could muster and with that our cover was blown.

Sometime later, Chanda, that same friend (Rebecca) and some other friends from church ran a local 10k together. Afterwords while I was loading the kids into the van Chanda and Rebecca were talking about the upcoming Akron Marathon. Rebecca shared how she was once again putting together relay teams from our church and expressed a concern that she wouldn't have enough runners to complete the final team. The next thing I knew we were both signed up for the Akron Marathon, Chanda for about an 8 mile leg and me for just over 6.

Let me reiterate that I had never run a race before and my plan to be supportive without actually running myself had worked almost flawlessly. (She did con me into running 3 miles with her was awful!) And now I was signed up for a race...

And so my training began...sort of. I downloaded a training plan app onto my iPhone and, when I wasn't away for summer camps and missions trips, kind of followed it. Well, not really. I usually at least worked in the long run and typically tried to get in at least one more a week. Before I knew it my $12 WalMart shoes were falling apart and so I replaced them with another pair of equally cheap running shoes. Eventually I did manage a 6 mile run about two weeks before the race. Satisfied that I could complete my assigned distance I did not run again until race day.

On race day we all met together and then split up and went to the hand-off points for our assigned legs. When the baton was passed to me I settled in behind a guy running an 8:30 pace. I followed him for two miles until he dropped down to closer to an 11 minute pace. I spent the next four miles searching for someone to be my pacer. Nobody was running as fast as I wanted to. I completed my 6.3 mile leg in 56 minutes flat (an 8:53 pace) It turned out that all that stroller pushing and wagon pulling had left me in better condition than I thought! But I still wasn't a runner.

I continued to go out and run once or twice a week for the next six weeks or so until the inevitable happened. Northeast Ohio winter struck. Running season was over. It was cold now and a combination of snow and ice covered every outdoor surface. I was NOT going to break my leg to run in that. To be honest, I didn't really miss it that much anyway. I missed being out in the woods and hearing the birds and squirrels and such. But the act of running? Not so much...until my heartburn came back.

To be honest I hadn't even noticed it was gone. But as I began "training" for that race my heartburn gradually faded away. I went from eating a whole role of antacids every day to not needing them at all but now I was back to a pack a day habit. I remember standing in my kitchen, antacids in hand, thinking, "What happened to me?" And then it hit me. I need running. For a variety of reasons, the stress levels of my life are such that it causes me to have severe heartburn. Running must be a release for that stress. Immediately I popped a few more antacids and sent out this tweet:

"Running doesn't reduce the amount of stress in my life. It just gives it something to do besides eat away the lining of my stomach"

It was then that I knew I was a runner. Not because I loved it but because I needed it. I felt better, I was happier, I was a more patient husband and father when I ran. I realized that running is what keeps me human. It is a gift from God, I believe, for all of us. Don't believe me? Watch small children play outside sometime. They can just run circles and laugh and smile all day long. Running brings them joy. It's the most natural thing in the world to do. I can't imagine life without it anymore. I'm up to about 30 miles a week now and am training for my first half marathon in just a couple of weeks. Running is now a piece of me, its a way of life. And that is how I became a runner.

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