Photo by Beth Price of Beth Price Photography»
An oldie but goodie from the MRG archives…this post originally was published in July, 2013. I still consider my running a work in progress! -MRG
Maybe it’s that my 20-year class reunion is in another week. Or that I’m approaching a milestone birthday in the next year and a half—bring on a new age-bracket, let’s get the 40s started already! Or maybe I’m just more reflective as my kids get older, as my marriage grows, as relationships with the people who mean the most to me evolve and I’m more aware than ever of time passing.
Whatever it is, I got thinking about my running journey. And just how far I’ve come—in ways completely unexpected. These days I surprise myself with wanting to try things I never could have predicted. I owe this to finding running seven years ago. I know this much is true.
30-some years ago: The early-childhood photos of a beaming, gymnastics-loving, long-haired, look-at-me little girl have given way to a skinny, feel-so-awkward, flat-chested, spiral-perm-headed tween who is finding she’s decent—not the greatest, but decent—at playing certain sports. Basketball, volleyball, softball—these are fun, especially with friends, and they give me a break from everyday worries that cause typical pre-teen angst. Riding my bike to a friend’s down the hill, through a grassy field and on dirt paths, is my greatest joy. I’m running all the time, across our backyard, even down a path connecting our property to the Vasa Trail (though I won’t know the significance of this pathway for years to come).
15-20 years ago: I’ve fallen away from the sports of my youth. There’s a lot of competition at my high school, I tell myself, and besides I’ve found I like cheerleading and am trying with my team to make it more “sporty” by going to cheer camps. Overall I feel OK about my looks, and that’s what exercise is really about, right? I likely make jokes about not wanting to run or do anything too terribly strenuous. Why would I ever want to do that? After all, there were those tortuous times running the hills of “Old Glory” across the road from my junior high, when side stitches lead me to believe running will always be something I loathe. I meet a boy, an older guy who is a runner, near the end of my college years (where I’ve cemented my career path but taken up social smoking) and though I try to impress him by saying I can run, he sees right through me the first quarter mile. He somehow looks past this and sticks around. We eventually log a few longer runs together, and I’ll forever remember him saying, “Nice and easy. Just take it nice and easy” as we navigate a paved path in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. not long after our wedding. In later years I have moments of wanting to run, to call myself “a runner,” but I don’t do much to make this actually happen.
10 years ago: Physical activity mostly means chasing after my 3-year-old (she loves running up and down the steep slope beside our tri-level house where at the bottom we’ve set up a swing set) while mentally, my stay-sane efforts involve elementary school gym playdates and frequent stroller walks around our neighborhood with said preschooler and her just-walking brother. We’re back in Traverse City, our hometown, and this summer of ’03 is when I decide to join a fitness center, the only place in town that has great childcare in its expansive lower level next to the locker rooms. I can sweat it out upstairs on equipment completely foreign to me while my babies play with gigantic exercise balls, jump on small trampolines and (hopefully) wear themselves out for their mama. I feel my sleep-deprived body and mind awakening. To what exactly, I am not sure. But I want to find out.
6 years ago: I’ve signed on for my first race after a group of friends suggest a girls’ weekend in Grand Rapids, a couple hours drive away. I’m running on a regular basis now, having connected with these women through the fitness center I’ve joined. They’re great athletes, all experienced in running races and taking time for themselves to do outdoor activities like mountain and road biking (I barely know the difference between these two kind of bikes, let alone understand what it would take to actually try either myself—but I do soon enough). I’m so green about the sport of running, though, and I really rely on what these women teach me. I’m equal parts scared of and intrigued with their knowledge. I can’t ignore the amazing transformation my body and mind begin to make after running three to four days a week for several months. I’m hooked. I want more. My immediate family sees the positive results—mental, physical, spiritual—that come with my running. Others who have known me for a long time question what’s happened. “I’m happy,” I tell them. Some still look at me like I’ve gone crazy.
3 years ago: After numerous races of varying distances, I decide to run a marathon. It’s the ultimate challenge, I figure. It’s also something I never thought I’d do. I eat up stories of other runners who tackle the distance. I read books, watch The Spirit of the Marathon—several times. I wonder how I will ever run as far as 16 or 18 miles, let alone 26.2. I work with a coach, a kind and knowledgeable woman who convinces me that I can do this. I tell her I want to qualify for Boston and she doesn’t laugh in my face. In fact, she helps me do just that, with a 22-week, 6-days-a-week training plan that ultimately reveals to me I am capable of more than I ever imagined. People say crossing the finish line changes your life. It’s cheesy-sounding. But true.
Today: I’m old enough to know and understand the adage that life is a journey, not a destination. I don’t feel I’ve “arrived” in my running journey—far from it. I’ve had lots of stops and starts, setbacks and heartbreaks. Injuries that sidelined me for weeks and led to adjusting my goals. But I am thankful for all of the moments that make up the journey I continue to take. I’m thrilled with all of my accomplishments, and I’m sure they’re sweeter because of the hard stuff that I’ve endured. My so-called “running life” feels wider and bigger in so many ways—it’s more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it’s pushing myself further mentally and physically, which translates to pushing myself in life, deliberately putting myself outside of my comfort zone. If I can carry on through those first couple of miles in below-zero weather when my face and fingers feel numb…if I can power up just one more hill on the trail…if I can take a few days off from running to heal an aching muscle or nagging injury (and know it’s going to be OK) … then I can do other tough things in life, like be patient with myself and my kids and husband, to all try to get along and love one another even when we feel tired or cranky or just not wanting to be around anyone else. I know I can get through a rough patch at work, or with a friend, or just a crappy day. I don’t make mountains out of molehills like I used to. Just keep going. Press on. Time really does heal. Change is constant. Life does go on. There will be other races, other runs, other challenges. Maybe more marathons, more triathlons … maybe one day an Ironman (an idea that’s planted itself firmly in my mind in recent months and isn’t budging). I’m also happier, more full of contentedness and peace. Life isn’t perfect, but it feels good enough. Great enough. I’m thankful in ways I don’t think I ever was before I became a runner.
My running journey is wide, wide open with possibilities. I think it is for all of us.
What’s your running journey been like? What has been unexpected? What do you treasure most about your experiences?
What’s your next big thing? I signed on for my fifth marathon today, in Marquette!