Sunday, March 30, 2014

When Running Loves You Back

Running is my teacher. She is patient and forgiving, but also relentless and rigorously honest. She welcomes me back, even after a long absence, but she never forgives snow days, and she never gives extra credit. Her grades are hard to earn, but hard lessons have a way of rooting  more deeply than the easy ones do. 

I love to run long distances. Love it. Love. It. Two miles? Four miles? Six miles? Yeah, they can feel like work sometimes. Those routine runs that you squeeze in before dawn or over lunch or after work, just to keep up your conditioning. The ones where you have one eye on your watch because you're shooting for the right training pace, or you're checking your cadence or you have a time goal to hit... they can be a chore some days. 

But the long ones... oh the Long Slow pleasure of ten or sixteen or twenty miles on a Saturday morning... whether you're watching the fog burning off the hills, or dodging the bread trucks as they make their deliveries... The initial warm up as your heart begins to race, then calm itself to find its steady rhythm. The mindful attention to every curve and bend, each hill and rise making your eyes widen with anticipation or narrow with delight. The fire deep inside that flares or smolders, fueling muscles and nerves as you stride silently along the road, feeling texture and temperature through your feet, your hands, your face. And ultimately comes the moment you disappear. You are no longer breathing; you are breath. No pain. No will. No thought. You are pure presence. You are no longer running. You simply are.

Once you've been there, you want to go back. You dream about it. It's a holy place. But the chances to get there are rare. And they don't come cheap.

It takes time. 

Lots of time. You have to invest the hours. You have to earn the miles. You don't run twenty-six point six just because you want to. You have to earn it. You have to run eighteen first. And fifteen. And ten. Not just once, but many times. 

Running rewards respect... Disrespect her and she will humble you. With pain. With setbacks. With injuries. You're going to doubt yourself. You don't have the strength. You don't have the legs. Too slow. Too fat. Too far behind. Your heart will break along the way. It will break. And when that happens, you have to learn to keep running.

You have to learn to run with a broken heart.

And that takes trust.

You have to trust yourself. You will get stronger. You will. Every step will make you stronger. Believe it. Your heart will learn to beat again. Injured joints will mend. Burning lungs will clear. They will. You have to trust that. You have no choice. You can trust, or you can quit. Because only your trust will keep you out there on the road. In the weight room. In the whirlpool. Going wherever you have to go, doing whatever you have to do to earn HER trust. 

She has to learn to trust you, too. Because you see, she is more than a teacher. She has secrets you can only guess at... and stories you've never heard before. She will show you things inside yourself that you didn't know were there. And she will give you parts of herself that you never imagined could exist. She will tease you, amuse you, frustrate you, lead you on, and shut you down. And one day, if you are faithful and lucky, she will open her arms, and give you the most sacred part of herself.

In my life, running and I have gone to heaven together. But always on her terms. She has no use for my good intentions or heartfelt desire. She doesn't care about what I've written or the books I've read. She needs to know me, and needs me to know her. She needs to know that I will be there. That I will give her my time. That I will honor her trust.

Only then will she open her arms to me and welcome me into her heart. 

There is a place out there on the road. Marathoners call it "The Wall." Physiologists will tell you that it's the place where your glycogen stores are exhausted and there is nothing left in the tank for the engine of your body to use for fuel. You hit the wall and you crash. You bonk. You fail. Nothing but will, training, and insanity can get you past The Wall. 

But if you are lucky, she will be there waiting for you. She will let you keep going. You don't earn those miles. . Those are the ones she gives you. They come from her heart.

That's when you've learned your lessons. That's when running loves you back.

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