When I started running people told me that it was a mental challenge. No, I thought, it is a physical challenge. Over the last few days though I have been thinking a lot about that. Jess Movold in an article in “Runner’s World” asked a question I’ve been thinking about. “So then why do we do [run]? For me, it comes down to this: Running trains me how to hurt. The end of a hard workout is a benchmark that tells me how much hurt I can handle. It gives me the confidence to hurt a little more the next time. And a little more, and a little more.”
You see my goal started as 5K. Frankly that was pretty easy. At least looking back on it now, it was. Now I have reached my next goal - 10K. So what comes next?
And bingo, there is the mental challenge. I've run 10K a few times now. It's getting easier. But doubt creeps in. Why am I doing this? It takes me away from things that I want to do. True it only takes three hours a week. My thoughts run to "It's cold and wet today. I don't need to run." Nobody sees me. Nobody will know if I do or don't. I'm not getting the kudos that I got in the beginning. Were the kudos the reason I was running anyway? The questions pour in. And they don't have many answers.
I started to think about why and how I got started running. A laughing friend told me that I got hooked on running the morning she and I spent on a track going in circles. I was walking. She was running. Our time together was a factor. But there were other factors.
One such factor was that I found my walks were getting longer. but didn't seem to be achieving the same endorphin effect. The addiction to movement comes into play. I was trying to figure out how to get more aerobic activity into my life.
Reading a book was another factor. A Twitter book recommendation from a web developer trying to lose weight influenced me. "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall made me think. How could I not try running after reading it? He described the freedom from running long distances and barefoot. The descriptions were put simply - inspiring.
A final factor was a climb with my son. I had climbed several other men into submission on this climb a few weeks earlier and I wanted to finish it. So he came with me. As I watched him blithely jumping from rock to rock, scrambling along, I realized that I wasn't so young. I once had been in good physical condition. Now I wasn't. When I mentioned it, the comment "Well dad, you are old." stuck with me.
I happened to mention this longing and this thinking to another runner friend. She sent me a link to a "Couch to 5K" training plan. And without thinking a whole lot about it, I started running. I had a wonderful pair of light walking sandals, the process didn't seem too arduous so I set off running. Not quite barefoot. But almost. I was not winded after the initial runs (though that soon changed.) I fell in love with the feeling of "doing something." The joy of bounding along with new running shoes was like running with pillows on my feet. Not barefoot but a more sensible way to run.
Running the 5K "Run for a Cure" was an incredible milestone. Accomplishing the goal, the feeling of being able to do it, knowing I was pushing limits, was rewarding. But then the crash set in. I knew I wanted to keep running but 5K felt like nothing. The decision to run 10K wasn't too hard. The plan was clearly laid out before me and so I moved on. Rather than following the 5K maintenance training plan, I pushed further.
The night I ran 9.9K was funny. I was 100m short of the 10K and while I knew I could have run it easily the fact that I hadn't really rankled. So I settled in to reach that goal not on my next run but shortly after that. And on the day that the training plan called "Race Day" I ran my first 10K. I have done it once a week since then.
Now I'm lost.
Where do I go from here? I mentioned doubts earlier. I think that there is a part of me that thought that running might magically cure me of my lung cancer. When I look at it in the cold hard light of day, I know that isn't going to happen. But it is equipping me for a time when breathing will get more difficult. There is clear evidence that exercise boosts the effectiveness of the immune system.
But I recall another tough challenge in changing my lifestyle. Prior to cancer I would tell anyone who would listen that losing 40lbs was the hardest thing I had ever done. The multitude of tiny changes; the plateaus; wondering if those pounds would ever go; making decisions about what I would sacrifice; and what I wouldn't; was hard. And doing it slowly. Precipitous weight loss is not the way to lose weight and keep it off.
Well do I remember stepping on the scale and seeing 179 lbs. I had reached my goal. The next time I stepped on the scale I had bounced back up to 182 lbs. At that moment I knew that all the little changes I had made had become a lifestyle. I couldn't go back to whole milk or sugary sodas or huge bowls of ice cream. The leafy salads for lunch and lots of fruit were a permanent part of my life. Now that I had made the change I needed to maintain it.
Running is like that. Now that I have made the change, I need to maintain it. The kudos will stop flowing. The reason has to be intrinsic. It satisfies something inside of me. So I have a little tiny goal of moving my pace up from 7.5 min/km to 7.0 min/km. And I'm balancing it with some upper body work. Planks and pushups being the mainstay of that work.
Movold told a story that ended with the line, "the walls of fear are paper thin." On the days when it is raining (or snowing) I'm ready to push through that hurt and discomfort. Maintaining a good habit means some other things shift around. I have learned that when fear stops me, those thoughts are only paper thin. Moving through them teaches me lessons that apply in all sorts of areas of my life.
Failing to reach my goal for the NaNoWriMo novel was a lesson for my writing. I'm back in the saddle writing again. Failure took the wind out of my writing sails for a while and finding the wind again was challenging. Painting reached a plateau. I dropped out of a comprehensive watercolour painting course. Not feeling adequate, not seeing progress, not reaching my goal. Then a wise artist pointed me to the reason I do art. Joy. And there too, I'm finding my mojo again. Enjoying my muddling along, logging the brush miles. The kudos on the calendar art didn't hurt either. But that was a huge bold step for me to put my art out there. I knew that it might hurt me to hear criticism. But knowing too that I wanted others to enjoy the creating that I was doing.
As I reflect on the year past and the future in front of me, creation and relationships are two of my greatest blessings from God. The Psalmist captures it well:
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.
Psalm 51:13-15 (The Message)
God has indeed commuted my death sentence for now. I am responsible to share the lessons They have given me with those who will listen, that they too will come home.
Thanks for your prayers and support.