Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the road again--running as a way of life (part 2)

After I signed up for my first half-marathon for Labor Day, I realized that my original plan was to run a race at the end of September. I'm about 3 weeks behind schedule now--I'm adding a little bit to my long runs each Saturday or Sunday to catch up a bit. Nine miles this morning was a little tough, but I stuck with the walk-run combo, which should keep me fresh and healthy.

Back to the running story.

With my 7th grade 600 yard epiphany run, I discovered the benefits of running beyond the testosterone-fueled speed fix for my new teenage body. Though I knew nothing yet of endorphines, these endorphines helped me sort out the onslaught of thought and emotion pulsating through my brain every day. Running didn't solve my problems, but gave me space and balance in which I didn't have to worry about the consequences of my developing brain. The faster and farther I ran, the better I felt.

I needed to feel better because I was upset that my family was moving about 60 miles away--and I would no longer see my friends with whom I had grown up--a crushing development for a 13-year old. I remember one of my last days in my old neighborhood, a party with classmates on the shores of Lake Washington. It was a cool and drizzly June day. I don't remember feeling sad about moving, just frustrated. I felt like I had control of nothing anymore, like I had no choices. My friends had nothing to say to quell that frustration; I think the frustration continued to boil and rise. So I took off and started running along the lake. I don't know how far I ran--but it started to rain, and that only gave me more energy to run. I ran so far that I had thoughts of running all the way home (I just looked this up on Google Maps, it wouldn't have taken me that long. It would have been a 4-mile run. One thing I hadn't learned about running yet was pacing. I would have passed out sprinting 4 miles). I'd say about a mile into it, I gave up the home run thought and returned to the park. The run gave me the space to be frustrated, but on the run I realized that I didn't have to despair about the frustration, and I was more open to the move.

Running became my own space to sort things out, where I didn't have to answer anyone's questions but my own.

After the move, I found myself running a few times per week, working my way up to 3-4 mile runs. I thought it was a good practice to get me in shape for basketball and baseball. I liked the discipline, so I joined the cross country team. Here I discovered I wasn't really a competitive runner. However, I enjoyed the training runs so much, it didn't matter to me that I didn't make varsity, let alone finish very high in the junior varsity. I had a nasty kick, but I couldn't figure out the pacing thing. I usually finished in the bottom ten for the meet. I remember one guy who became a basketball nemesis in a neighboring town. He was 6'8" as a frosh and could barely put one foot in front of the other, so they had him run cross country so that he could build his coordination. At least I could beat him in a 3-mile race, and a few others. That was it. I ran cross country for about 2.2 seasons before I learned that my lack of cross country success resulted from not completing all the training runs. Running was about my own space, not running with a team or being told to run--how far, how fast, and when. After running for a few weeks with the team my junior year, I quit and went back to running on my own, which was much more enjoyable.

What I learned from cross country is how much I enjoyed the basic 3-mile run. It has been the foundation of my running schedule for years. I get my blood pumping, I can exert a little speed once in awhile, and I feel refreshed after I'm done. I continued this style of running schedule of 2.5-4 miles, 3-6 times per week, through high school, college and seminary and while my dear wife and I lived in Wisconsin. I ran regardless of the conditions, and found I really enjoyed running in the snow. I went through brief periods where I would run longer distances, but I stuck with the basic 3-mile average.

I took that simple running practice toward running several 5k races. I think I ran about 6-8 over the years. I ran a 5k in Grapeview, Washington for their local festival. I ran the Komen Race for the Cure, a sorority sponsored run at the University of Kansas, another for ovarian cancer, and one for mental illness support and another to support a college in Wisconsin. I loved the race day excitement to boost my beloved training run. I also enjoyed the opportunity to take a little day trip to the race, which gave me another incentive to run--running in different places. I developed the habit of packing my running clothes, so as I traveled more often for work and education, my running was refreshed by seeing a new place while I ran.

When I moved to South Dakota, life changed. And so did my running.

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