After three years, I have reached the point where I have to label myself a runner. Three years ago, I could run ¼ mile without stopping. In May, I will be running my third marathon. A lot of people tell me I am crazy or ask why I would put myself through the training. The answer is, “I have to.”
I do not get “runner’s high.” There is no physical feeling that I look forward to when I am on the road. I do not enjoy the blisters, cramps, or dead legs I experience after long runs.
There is no social aspect to it. I do not take part in the “runner’s community” or use my runs to talk with friends. Largely due to schedule and personality, I run alone. I am closing in on 3,000 miles logged. Fewer than 20 of those have been with another person.
I am not addicted to any sense of accomplishment. I can usually finish in the top 3 for my age division for 5Ks and I have finished two marathons. However, until I break 4 hours in a marathon, I do not really consider them successful. I’ve missed by 7 and 9 minutes. One way or another, I am sure you will read about this in late May.
I do not like what running has done to my body. I am down 35 pounds from when I started. However, I continually hear that I am scrawny, too skinny, or that I need to eat. People who have not seen me in a while have pulled me aside and asked what is wrong with me. I am not bragging. I eat and drink whatever I want and do tons of push-ups but this is the body I have. They will never make a Magic Erik-XS movie. I do not like what I see in the mirror or that running has apparently turned me into Christian Bale in the Machinist. I am not a physically attractive man. I know that. Running has not helped.
I run because, quite frankly, I need to. I have always struggled with focusing on the negatives in life. Failures, lost relationships, mistakes, worry, self-doubt, the ugly-side of humanity that my jobs slams into my face. For years, I have resolved to be more optimistic and positive, but it is not easy because life is so fast… except when I run.
Whether my training runs are 25 minutes or three hours, I refuse to let myself think about anything except positive experiences in my life. No worries, no regrets, no planning. I try to relive, and replay, moments that are important to me and that I never want to forget. The obvious one are there. The birth of my sons, Disney trips, but I try to vividly remember the small, special moments in life. The compliments someone gave me. What was she wearing? Goals you scored in high school. Random conversations you had. Stupid moments that everyone else has forgotten but I hold on to. Little flashes that I enjoyed but will fade if I let them. Friends. A smell. Laughing. The moment in that conversation with a girl when you made eye contact, smiled, realized, “She gets me and we both feel something” and became simultaneously thrilled and terrified.
A Counting Crows song says, “I can’t remember all the times I’ve tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” When I run, I force myself to hold on to the moments. I do not want people and memories to become ghosts.
When I run, there is nothing to do but think and I force myself to make sure those thoughts make me smile. It makes me a better person. It is not easy to do, but I have successfully trained myself to do it. When I am on the road, by myself, tired, slogging through snow and wind with another 8 miles left, I feel surrounded by friends and memories. The time alone on the road is the time that I feel the least lonely. I run because I need that feeling in my life. I run because I have to.