Monday, June 14, 2010

Running on Purpose

If you aren't a runner, you probably rarely run by accident - unless, that is, you end up late for a train or chased by a fierce animal.  But if you are a runner, chances are, you run on purpose.

My purpose for running has changed over the years, and it actually took me a while to figure that out.  When I was little, I ran just to run. 

Then I went to middle school, and I ended up on the cross country and track teams - all about the competition.  I ran to compete.  But I didn't necessarily like the races; the best part was the camaraderie with my teammates (and opponents; in middle school I managed to make friends with the top runners from all the other schools, which worked well when we consolidated in 8th grade and high school).

I especially enjoyed our "longer" runs (and can hardly believe that the longest runs we did were 6 milers) and talking and sharing as we ran.  I even enjoyed the interval training - I liked being pushed and pushing myself.  I thought the purpose of running was competition, and I wondered why anyone who wasn't fast would even try to run.  Yes, conceited.  Yes, naive.  What can I say - I was a teenager.

When I got into college and later, even though I was no longer a competitive runner, I still thought competition was the purpose of running.  Even though I wasn't training, I still thought I could run a competitive 5K... I paid the price.  And I changed my purpose for running.  For several years, I ran *only* to get in shape/keep in shape for soccer.  I know plenty of people who only run when there's a ball in front of them.

Then came the 5K races - As an adult I got back into running races, still primarily for the competition.  There were always the small town races where I could place in my age group, even with my *OK* times and without much (any?) intentional training.

I began to enjoy those races, mostly because I started to find friends there - mostly friends from other venues (soccer friends, basketball friends, even seminary friends) - so it seems that camaraderie was still a big part of my run.

But as I began training for a marathon, something changed.  I began training and running mega miles, and (once I got over the initial horror of seeing those huge numbers on Hal Higdon's marathon training chart)  I started to enjoy running simply for the sake of the run.

Sure, I like the side benefits; I like being able to eat whatever I want - though the "whatever I want" actually changes when I run, because I actually want to eat more healthy because it helps me run farther and faster.  I love the endorphin rush and the way I feel after a run.  I love that I've lost weight and that I'm in better shape for soccer. 

But mostly I just like running.  I like pushing myself to see if I can do it.  When I see a hill in front of me, now it's a challenge: can I run up it?  How fast can I run it?  (maybe unless it's Steel Hill, pictured to the left, in which case the question is: How soon will I start walking?)  Sometimes the challenge is the I won't stop and walk challenge or the How many miles can I get? challenge.  I like pushing the pace, trying for negative splits.

I still am competitive - I love seeing my times drop, even when it's just over a mile or an interval workout.  My average mile time has dropped significantly, and I like that.

But even beyond the competition, I enjoy running for the time it takes. It's a time to collect my thoughts, to pray, to listen to sermons, to listen to music, to relax (ha!), to put aside a to-do list, to recharge my mental batteries.  It's a time to share with friends (when I'm fortunate enough to train with friends).  There is a deep connection between the physical and the spiritual, and when I am able to be physically active, I sense the spiritual as well.  God is with me when I run.


Greg said...

Nice post Rev. As you know I'm a big believer in understanding your purpose in running - but sometimes (at least temporarily) that purpose may, in fact, be in finding the purpose (and something else like competition can sustain us for that period). You look extremely confident and dedicated to your running, so whatever is driving you, it seems to resonate.

Anonymous said...

He's Back! I almost had to start my own blog in your absence. Good thing you came back. It would have been "My history of walking".