When I first decided to take up running at the nubile age of 48, no one asked me what I was trying to prove. Running a mile or so a week with incremental increases didn’t raise any eyebrows nor did it interfere with much of anything else except my own illusion of fitness. Although I looked fit, I had to grapple with the fact that I was huffing and puffing and my muscles were whining and whimpering and it felt far from a transformational experience. As I adjusted and increased my mileage, I reached past the 5K (3 mile) mark and set my sights on a longer distance, first the half marathon and shortly thereafter a full marathon. A funny thing happened along the way. I started to get the question in multiple variations, “What are you trying to prove?” I found that odd, as the only thing I could think of in response is that I hadn’t set out to prove anything. I just happen to be a woman that still has a sense of wonder and curiosity and this all started with two questions: 1) I wonder if I could run a mile, and 2) I’m curious if my belief that “I’m not a runner” is really true?
I found out that yes, I could run a mile (eventually) and I accomplished my “bucket list” marathon not once but five times over progressively trimming 25 minutes off my time as I’ve aged, I mean matured. As I’ve evolved into a “runner” another question seems to surface rather frequently. I’ve been asked by well-meaning friends or acquaintances this question: “What are you running from?” To them, the idea of running a long-distance (anything over a few miles or a weekly mileage that tallies into the double digits) must be either a fully-calculated or a subconscious attempt at escape. Why else go several hours without communication, electronics, or the creature comforts of home? I have come to the conclusion that this question says a lot more about the inquirer than me, or any other runner that I know. Most of the runners I know run not to escape their life, but rather to connect to it. For me, I can say without a doubt that when I leave for a run, the idea of running “from” something never enters my mind, but the idea that I am running “to” something is ever-present.
The next time I am asked why I run or what I’m running away from, I think I’ll answer this way:
- I run because I can.
- I run to connect with my world. The world looks, feels, smells, and tastes different when it is beneath your feet.
- I run to reach a goal or milestone. There is something wonderful about have a tangible mile marker or a visible finish line. I love that some part of my life has a beginning, middle and end.
- I run to a place or a destination. I often plan my running routes to take me to a place where I once saw a great blue heron or a magical gold finch, or to a park where I can remember a birthday celebration or a picnic, or on a trail that left me ankle deep in mud one day and in the aroma of sweet blueberries and sunshine another. I have favorite runs that take me through towering sculptures and breathtaking waterfront vistas and I have routes that capture their own sense of humor as I look for my favorite graffiti messages and dog walkers.
- I run to remind me of the talents and adventures that are hidden within. I am still in awe that there was a runner inside of me and I wonder what else lurks beneath the surface.
- I run to stay humble. Some days I am convinced that I am an athlete. On other days I feel like the huffing, puffing, whining and whimpering woman attempting to run a mile. Yet, I am humbled that my body responds, my muscles tone, my breathing continues, my heart beats, and all the while my mind can simultaneously process complex and creative thoughts.
- I run to eat dessert. I like that I can indulge guilt-free. Dessert is one of those small gifts that come with a guarantee of a second endorphin rush. I don’t know anyone that would turn down feeling happy, fit, and indulged.
- I run to wear flashy shoes and spandex. Let’s face it, when you have the sleek, “look-at-me” shoes combined with form-fitting fabric that wicks, dries, and makes you look good; that’s enough for me.
- I run to breathe. Perhaps this is the best answer of them all. In all my bustling, stressing, hair-pulling, logistics-leaping and overachieving, I often find my breathing to be shallow, my head to be light and I am one step from either hyperventilating or becoming oxygen deprived. Running forces me to open my lungs, breathe deeply and to support my body and not my head. I’m sure my body feels like it is receiving shock therapy, but sometimes that is what I need to get myself into the pattern of breathing for life and not for thought.
If the case can be made that I’m truly in denial and I am running away from something, then let my answer be that I am running from mediocrity, the settle-for life, the void of the disengaged and the pursuit of those who lack imagination. Should I meet any of those who live their life in avoidance along my way, I would be tempted to ask them my own question: “What are you waiting for?”
© Kelly Tweeddale 2013