Aglow from the caffeine of two Clif Shots and a finish line coffee coupled with the endorphins produced during the Emerald City Half Marathon, I felt now would be a good time to share with you why I run.
10) My gut no longer hangs over my belt. I exchanged the impetus of my runner’s life for a sleeker frame, muscular definition, and enhanced stature. Reading up on how elite athletes run on vegetarian chili and green smoothies, I can’t argue against exchanging empty calories for nutrient-rich meals. Do I now consume only the best grains and produce the local farmer’s market has to offer? No, but I provide my family with healthier choices, and instead of complaining when Laura serves a meal minus the meat, I now make tempeh and quinoa, beans and rice.
9) The frequent phrase, “I feel like I just ran a marathon,” spilled from my mouth years before Josh, Matt, and I completed our first 26.2 mile race last fall. Now I understand how vast my exaggeration. Pushing myself past what I thought possible unlocked reserves I didn’t know existed. My mettle far outstripped my self-confidence. Wobbling from the finish line, I repeated, “I just ran a marathon,” several times before asking, “What else can I accomplish?”
8) Running taught me when faced with pain or trouble, I can make it worse by tensing up, or I can release what concerns me, accelerating even as I do. I never realized how much energy I wasted stressing out about light and momentary troubles until discovering the mental equivalent of taking a vacation. Some would call it entering a Zen state, but I prefer the phrase disconcerning myself. Running becomes so automatic, your body enters a rhythm like one setting a metronome. Your brain releases your legs to tick away each step then wanders off to play. Applying this practice to the rest of life allows me to complete challenging projects without fear.
7) Running taught me to smile, experiencing joy no matter the circumstance. After pushing my body so long, the muscle ache and general weariness often set my mind to complaint, repeating thoughts of “this is too much, I gotta stop, I can’t do this,” and the like, so my friends, Matt and Josh, and I started telling each other jokes as we ran. Besides forcing euphoria, cracking my friends up got me out of my own head, stopping the self-pity, and taught me pretending to enjoy myself soon turns to true enjoyment, so smiling throughout the day allows me to master my emotions, instead of them mastering me.
6) Josh and Matt care for me even as I look out for them. Spending at least an hour with these guys three times a week builds trust, which frees me to share things I wouldn’t with anyone else, giving perspective, encouraging advice, and promoting acceptance.
5) I became part of a community I didn’t even know existed. People reference the running bug, like it’s a virus, a foreign species capable of invading your body and ravaging it without knowledge nor permission, but taking on the discipline changed me. Words like fartleks and repeats, split pace, and VO2 max entered my vocabulary. I bought a hydration belt and compression shorts. I collect finisher’s medals and tech shirts. I frequent stores and websites I didn’t even know existed five years ago. And there are millions of people like me all over the world that had they read this paragraph, would’ve recognized it as true to their experience as well.
4) Mystified, I became an athlete. Despite going out for teeball in kindergarten and volleyball and basketball in middle school, my participation in organized competitions only served to underline how gross my inability. Uncoordinated on the court, I embraced books and videogames, but I teach with a guy whose image appears throughout the trophy case just down the hall. Knowing I ran, he asked me how many miles I put in that morning. When I told him, “Six,” he guffawed in disbelief and remarked, “Jake, you are quite the athlete,” before stopping another teacher to hear how many miles I ran.
3) When I started running, I was most unfit. My muscles ached for weeks, and as my circulatory system struggled to maintain oxygen flow to my cells, I thought my heart would blow out like a truck tire, but instead, I grew stronger and got faster. At races, both Josh and Matt finished long before I did, but during one 5k, Josh paused to tie his shoe and didn’t see me again until after crossing the finish line where I waited, and now, whether training or racing, any one of us can kick to the end before the others arrive.
2) As I became a runner, so too did my wife, Laura. We’ve completed numerous 5k’s as a couple and even a few pushing our double stroller. This past winter, the first I trained through, knowing she added LASIK surgery to her Amazon wish list a few years ago, I asked Laura if running a 5k in February interested her. “Are you crazy? Just because you run through snow doesn’t mean I want to.” She changed her mind after I told her a local LASIK center sponsored the 5k I found and anyone entering the race qualified to win free surgery. She signed both of us up within 10 minutes with the understanding if they pulled my name, she’d get the surgery. When they called her name at the starting line, I had to confirm she heard right before she walked up to receive the certificate. Laura’s not worn glasses or contacts since.
1) When our five-year-old daughter asks, we lace up our shoes, secure our son in the stroller, and take a family run through the neighborhood. My reduced pace a small sacrifice for watching Magnolia chug her little arms and legs as she surges ahead, runs back, tickles Asher, greets her mom, and reaches for my hand.