I had actually planned to sleep in last Thursday, but after lying in bed for over an hour, unable to get back to sleep, I decided to put my energy to good use, lace up my sneakers and log a few training miles. The sun was barely up as I headed down the hill in my neighborhood and found myself with an unusual burst of energy for that early in the morning. Full of life, I felt for a moment that I could run forever. Full of raw emotion, I started to cry. Real tears began streaming down my face, not because it hurt to run, but because I never thought I would ever run so far, so fast, for so long.
I started running about seven years ago. I was just starting to really lose weight and was looking for an easy way to get some movement into my routine. My sister and then roommate had encouraged me to give running a try. A recent read of the book Ultramarathon Man helped me to believe that I could. The author, Dean Karnazes, tells the story of how he went from amateur to 200 mile marathon runner. Compared to 200 miles of non-stop running, working my way around the block didn’t seem so daunting of a challenge anymore.
I started by alternating between a few minutes at a jogging pace and then a few minutes of walking. I would make my way around the block a few times and be completely red faced and winded after 20 minutes or less. I felt silly bumbling down the street at 275 pounds, yet managed to convince myself that I looked even more ridiculous being obese and doing nothing about it.
Over time I was able to keep a steady pace for a little longer and a little farther. A few blocks of running turned into a few miles and before I knew it I was training for races. I stuck to mostly 10Ks and 5Ks until one October morning I was working downtown the day of the Chicago Marathon. Watching the buzz, the excitement and the sheer number of people involved made me wonder if I could ever run that distance. I was beginning to think that maybe I should.
On March 18, I will be running my first marathon to see that longstanding commitment through. 26.2 miles is admittedly far. Legend has it that Phidippides ran the 26.2 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens in order to warn his Greek brothers that the Persians were not far behind. It scares me to think that in just a few weeks, I will be covering the same distance. After all, Phidippides attempt, though successful and heroic, ended tragically. They say he died shortly after delivering his message.
As I was completing a 20 mile training run this past weekend, I realized that distance running is about training your mind and body to work in partnership to go the extra mile. As much as your mind pushes your body to go beyond rational limits, your body pushes back to force your mind to stretch the limits of what is rational. Sometimes it’s all mental, sometimes it’s all muscle and most of the time it’s some crazy mix of both.
Why do I run? I run to remind myself that I can. Every time that I run, I prove to myself that the rest of my life can’t possibly be that hard now that I can run this far, this fast for this long…