Today I am sore.
Because yesterday I ran.
I didn't run from the police.
I didn't run to evade getting tackled by a large man in a helmet.
I didn't run up and down a court to throw a ball in a basket or back and forth across a pitch to kick a ball in a goal.
I didn't run as a part of any team sport.
While all of these things would definitely wear me out, they had nothing to do with my running.
I ran yesterday because I wanted to.
Actually, I ran yesterday because I needed to.
To be honest, I needed extra motivation from my wife to hit the road, but she knew that I wanted to do it.
And so, I grabbed my water bottle, my Gu, my heart rate monitor and my iPod, laced up my running shoes and hit the door just after 2:30 in the afternoon for a 10 mile run.
Feelin' Hot, Hot, Hot!
I usually don't run in the afternoon or evening. I am more of an early morning runner. I just find that my legs feel a bit sluggish after the day has progressed, even if it is just a couple of hours. And so, yesterday, I found myself running along the all too familiar roads around our neighborhood. Somewhat foreign to me was running with all of the traffic that exists in the afternoon, as opposed to the relative stillness of an early morning run.
Another huge difference was the temperature. Yesterday was a near record warm day, so running in the afternoon only added to the difference. I knew I would have weak legs. I knew it would be hot. And still I went running.
You Do This For Fun?
Some people hear that I run several times a week and say "That's great. Good for you!".
Some people find out that I run for enjoyment and echo the line from Back to the Future Pt 2 "Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?"
People are mostly supportive, but when they ask about how far I run, usually their expression, if not matched by their words, is "Are you nuts?"
Basically, the answer to that is "Yes".
I have learned to enjoy running.
I didn't start out that way and it has taken me a while to get to this point, but I do enjoy running.
That is not to say that I don't have those times when I dread getting up early to do it. I have times when I am running where I want to cut my route short and call it a day. "After all, 3 miles is more than most people will run in a month..." But in the end, I slog my way through tired legs and convince myself that finishing my route is what I need to do.
As I mentally spar with myself, prodding my feet to continue kicking, I learn why running is such a challenge.
It's me against me.
In a race, people will say they are racing the clock, but the reality is that they are truly racing against themselves. Sure, they may base their feeling of success based on what they hope the clock will tell them their finish time is, but they are running against their own mind and body. This is why people will tell you that their goal is to finish a race and not necessarily that they are hoping to set a new Personal Record (PR).
Runners realize their limitations through the repetitive motion of slamming their feet into the ground and propelling themselves forward. Runners of any skill level must deal with learning how to manage the mental as well as physical challenges that come with starting a race. To get to that line, the runner has to have determined weeks or months in advance that they are going to commit themselves to the task of purposefully wearing themselves out multiple times a week when literally nobody is looking and nobody cares. Actually running the race involves many more mental challenges.
Running is Emotional
This is what struck me about running my first half marathon a year ago. I had signed up for the Go! St. Louis half marathon, after having been consistently running on a treadmill for 4 months. As I cranked up my mileage on the road, I injured myself (stupid IT Band!) and missed almost a month of running. I had 4 weeks of training prior to the race once I was able to run again, so I set my sights on finishing the race, with no real time target.
It was the hottest day of the year, and people were literally dropping around me from heat exhaustion as we ran. (After 2 and a half hours, the course was closed at the midway point due to the number of people being overcome.) My legs began cramping up at mile 10, as I had never run more than 9.5 miles and had never run in the heat before. I pressed on. At mile 12 we began a long climb to the finish with my quads, hamstrings and feet randomly cramping along the way. I ran through it. As we came to where the spectators began to heavily line the street near the finish, I was encouraged.
As I neared the top of the hill where I could see the finish line I teared up, but didn't cry (although I easily and justifiably could have). If you have never dedicated yourself to the pursuit of something athletic that takes a commitment over the long term, put in hours of training each week and worked through injuries and rehab, then it may be hard for you to grasp why it was an emotional moment. I was about to accomplish my long pursued goal.
I crossed the line grimacing in pain, but I crossed it just the same.
And that is why I enjoy running. I place myself in situations where I have to contend with myself. Sure the elements can play a part, but I have to choose how I will respond to them. I have to determine if I want to continue running when it is entirely acceptable to walk through a cramp. I have to decide to run when my legs feel like stopping.
It's great exercise.
So go do it.
Put one foot in front of the other and take another breath.
Before you know it, you might find yourself enjoying the challenge.