If you’re a runner, you know. Some people just don’t get it. They never will either. In 2006, I ran my first marathon and I printed out the course map and gave my parents all these directions and suggestions for places they could come cheer for me on the course. It was a big deal to me, and I finally wanted them to see what I’d been training so hard for. I’d gone through the breakup of a decade long relationship while training, had run my first 18 miler on the day I had to move, and had literally changed my life from the beginning to the end of this training. I had finally reached the end. So much LIFE got in the way that year, but I had kept running. I just wanted them to see why, even if it was just a glimpse.
That day, I kept looking for them on the course, but I never found them. I finished the race, sure I’d just missed them somehow. It was a big race, after all. I was standing around for close to 15 minutes after I’d finished when my mom found me. She said it was too much of a hassle, so they just decided to meet me afterwards, when I was done. She explained that they “knew I’d run it and everything” and that should be enough. I was crushed. That’s when I got it.
Over the years, I’ve watched eyes glaze over when I talk about races. I’ve bitten my tongue when people ask how long “that marathon” is and I try not to let it bother me when they don’t really care when I explain that every marathon is the same 26.2 miles. I’ve seen my husband get frustrated over my early morning starts on the trails and his lack of sympathy over my aches and pains after a hilly or long day. I’ve shrugged off the concerns for my knees and I try not to correct people who refer to my running as “jogging.”
Whether you are a runner like I am or you’re one of the non-runners I’m talking about, I feel like it’s time to answer the question I get asked the most. And that question is: “Why do you run?”
- Running is just for me. Running has always been the thing I do for myself to make me feel sane, and it’s become even more so since having kids. I feel like I give to other people all day long. To my family, to my friends, to my clients, and even to strangers sometimes. I need something in my life that’s purely self-centered. On occasion, I’ll take the dog with me or I’ll run a few laps with my kids, but those are what I’d consider “bonus runs.” The runs I do for myself aren’t necessarily alone. In fact, I prefer running with other people. But I don’t do it for anyone but myself. No matter what’s going on in my life, a run always makes me feel better and I’ll never regret the choice to lace up and get out there. Maybe it is selfish, but it does make me a much nicer human being, which others will benefit from as well. So it’s a win-win.
- Running means I never get sick. Before I became a runner, I was guaranteed to get sick at least once a year, generally in the winter. Now it’s very rare that I get sick at all, and often when I feel like I’m going to be a little under the weather, I’ll get a bit of a “mini-cold” before my immune system jumps in and takes it away. Many years back, I got into a horrible bike accident that cut me up pretty bad, but within a week, many of my wounds had almost completely healed up. I credit running with strengthening my immune system so that I can fight stuff off so much easier. When someone takes my blood pressure or checks my pulse, it sometimes has to be done twice because people are surprised it’s so low. When I was having my first son, every single nurse who came into my hospital room to check my heartrate remarked on it. I told them all I was a runner and they all said that “explained it.”
- Running means I see things I wouldn’t see otherwise. People have marveled how I can get up at 5:00AM to run, or even 4:00AM. Yes, I’m that crazy runner. But I’ve seen the sun rise on many runs, and it’s well worth those mental snapshots that I’ll never forget. I’ve watched the leaves change colors day to day and I’ve even experienced the seasons shift while running. This sounds like an exaggeration, but I’ve felt the temperatures drop and watched everything ice over while on a long run and it’s completely surreal. I’ve run through rainstorms, hail, and snow. Maybe this doesn’t sound fun to you, but it’s been exhilarating. I’ve literally climbed mountains, from Mt Bachelor, OR to Copper Mountain, CO. I’ve run through several states, on beaches, through forests, and on some of the most beautiful country roads ever, and I don’t think I could truly experience this beauty any other way. It’s not the same in a car. It’s not the same in pictures. I’m getting out there and feeling the wind in my hair and feeling the strength of being alive and it’s unlike anything else.
- Running gave me a life. Before I was a runner, I was overweight and desperate for some sort of direction or fulfillment in life. I had no friends or ambition. I met so many wonderful people by joining a running community and I felt accepted from the beginning. There are so many types of runners out there now, and we are literally going through the same things at the same time. Fast or slow, we are all putting in those same miles, running over those same hills, and tackling the same hurdles. I met people who have become some of my best friends through running, including the maid of honor at my wedding. Putting in long miles every week with people when you’re feeling tired and vulnerable bonds you like nothing else in life. Add this to the fact that you’re running side by side rather than face to face, with no distractions from phones and outside factors, and you have yourself something akin to a confessional. You also often have a standing running date, and maybe even someone to have coffee with afterwards.
- Running saved my life. I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling winded before I started running. I was at risk for diabetes and I was very depressed. When I pushed my body to do amazing things, I found out that I could actually DO amazing things. I went from being shy and lacking confidence to proving to everyone, including myself, that I was a force to be reckoned with. I found myself taking risks I never would have before I had the confidence to go the distance. The girl who was scared to talk in front of the class in high school was suddenly leading a group exercise class. The self-proclaimed “fat girl” was no longer following the running coach, she was leading the group and coaching them to do their best. I found myself. I never knew my body and mind as well as I did once I started running. The farther I’ve gone and the more miles I’ve worn on my feet, the more secure I am in what I’ve learned and who I am. When you think you’ve reached the bottom of what you can take, you dig deeper and find that there’s more inside.
- Running taught me to be grateful. Running is the most humbling thing. Even if you’ve put in the work, you’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have good days too, and sometimes there will be as little rhyme and reason for those days as there is for the bad ones. You just never know. That’s the frustrating thing but it’s also what makes you cherish the stuff you’ve worked so hard for. It’s just like it is in life, really. You wouldn’t appreciate the journey if it was always easy. The rough paths to the top make you appreciate the view so much more than you ever could if it were easy to get there. Do what others can’t. Every time a race gets hard, I think about all of the things in life that could be harder. It helps. Keep going.
For a bit more on this topic, read my blog post on Run Oregon.