Change Your Life on Wednesday

Wednesday, June 3 is National Running Day. If you've ever had the slightest interest in trying this sport, what better time to start? Everyone says "If I can do it, anyone can." But believe me: If I can do it, anyone can. Anyone. You.

It's common to meet adult recreational runners who played various sports growing up: "I played soccer." "I ran a little track." "I was on the swim team." That wasn't me at all. The closest I came to a sport was Academic Decathlon. I started running at age 39, and it was a bit of an accident---I needed to get ready for a big hike during vacation that summer, and I figured Couch to 5K would be a decent way to work on some cardio and muscular fitness. I made it up the mountain, though it wasn't pretty... but it didn't matter, because running was what I was really meant to do. The means had become the end.

Don't get bogged down in the equipment in the beginning---the tech fabrics and fancy socks. All you really need to get started is a decent pair of running shoes. It's best to get them fitted at a running store, but if you're starting with a program like Couch to 5K, you'll be walking more than running, so [I'm not a doctor] it's probably OK to go with what you have for the moment, unless [I'm not a doctor] you have some kind of chronic joint problem or other health condition that would require something fancier.

harriettethompsonsandiego15Perhaps you read this weekend about Harriette Thompson, the 92-year-old woman who became the oldest woman to finish a marathon---her 16th marathon since 1999. She did this through a combination of walking and running, which is a great approach for lots of people for lots of reasons. I have friends who run/walk all of their training runs---and many of them are pretty darn fast. I incorporate walking into most of my long runs and races. Not only does it diversify the kinds of muscles you end up using, but it reduces fatigue and also breaks up the monotony. I will probably never win my age group in a race, but I've never had a significant injury either, and if I live to be 92, I want to still be running. So if you'd like to run but are worried about stress on your body, consider a run/walk approach, especially to start.

The physical benefits of regular exercise are well known. (And guess what---running probably won't kill your knees. In fact running can actually be beneficial for them.) But here are some other benefits I've found:

  1. I'm better connected to nature. I've seen more sunsets and (especially) sunrises in the last four years than I did in the previous forty. Rain and lightning used to be vague inconveniences I paid little mind. Now I tune into the weather and scan the sky for telltale signs. (I also run in the rain.) I'm learning to see spring evolve in all its subtlety, from the early buds of Bradford pears to the heady aroma of honeysuckle that announces the imminent arrival of summer. And every neighborhood hill I blithely barreled over in my van is intimately known to me through the pounding of my feet and the puffing of my breath. Viewing nature at a pace of 5-7 miles per hour gives you a completely different vantage point.
  2. I view food differently. I still eat way more junk food than I should. But I've started to view food as fuel, and to think about the components of my diet. I am mindful about what I put into my body: will this nourish me and help me be strong, not only as a runner but as a mother, writer, spouse, human being?
  3. I've found a community. I ran the first three years mostly solo but have been doing more group runs through the Springfield chapter of Moms RUN This Town. I've met wonderful people through running groups and races. You can be as extroverted or introverted as you want on a run. Eavesdrop on the conversation going on around you while you huff and puff away, or join in (which is a good way to know you aren't going too fast---you should be able to converse comfortably on your easy runs!). There's something magical about the things that get shared when everyone's looking straight ahead rather than at one another---there's both an intimacy and a sense of personal space. And there are few places more full of inspiration than at the finish line of a race. Whether it's the first runner or the last, or the one in the middle wearing the "I beat cancer" T-shirt, a finish line is a "thin place" where heaven draws near to earth.
  4. It's a spiritual discipline. By spiritual discipline, I mean that it's a practice that will teach you about yourself. It will shine a light on both your strengths and your vulnerabilities. There's nothing like a hilly race in 97% humidity to teach you what you fear, and what you have the power to overcome. Running can also connect you to something larger than yourself---whether that's God, nature, community, or a sense of your own smallness in the world. I recently ran with a couple of women, one of whom shared some deep stuff she'd been through. Afterward we all agreed that it felt like we'd been to church. Some members of my mama runners' group have jokingly called me the group chaplain and I happily accept that honor.
  5. Competition loses all meaning. So much of our culture pits us against one another--who's the smartest? the prettiest? the richest? And on a basic level, competitive sports are no different. If you run with someone, one of you will inevitably be faster than the other. But there's always a host of complicated factors at play in that: genetics, motivation, age, injuries, amount of free time to train, etc. Running teaches me (again and again, since I need to keep learning this) that it's ridiculous to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone faster than you, and slower than you. Even world record holders know that future generations will be breathing down their necks. All the more reason to set your own goals and run your own race.

I will celebrate National Running Day at the track on Wednesday morning, where I'm doing a mile time trial. I'm nervous about it---I did my first time trial in January, and I've been working really hard on speed and endurance since then. I know I will feel disappointed if I don't see any improvement. I also know I have the climate preferences of a polar bear---the heat and humidity just kill me. So I need to be kind to myself. Yet I don't want to let the summertime conditions be an excuse to accept less than my best. (See item #4 above---it's not just a time trial, it's a dang spiritual wrestling match!)

If you're in the Northern Virginia area and you'd like to run on National Running Day---or any other day---I'd love to run with you. Get in touch!

For other stuff I've written about running, click here. Or check out these specific posts:

I Am Neither Slow Nor Fast Grace in the Running Magazine