Saturday, January 9, 2010

Challenge #2: A Trip Down Runner's Lane

It’s week number two and time for a new challenge. This week I decided to start with another physical, health-conscious goal, but I do promise to move on from those things next week. Plato believed that the mind and ideas are closer to true reality than the physical world, so he might agree with those of you who think I’m dealing with “lesser” things by talking about eating or exercise. But somehow, however unclear it is to us now, our bodies and the way we live and interact with the physical world around us has further reaching consequences (or benefits) than we may realize. But, all the more reason to keep trying to recover their proper place in our lives and their redeeming, life-giving, even worshipful purposes.

Philosophy aside, it’s time to start running. You heard me. Pavement pounding, lung collapsing, adrenaline pumping, running! Maybe you think it’s not for you. Maybe you run every day. For me, running has been a humorous, difficult and even endearing journey that began around the time I was in middle school.

My dad was a runner. He ran a marathon once while I was in high school. If you saw him, the words that might run through your mind would probably be more like “wood chopper… nice flannel… he likes doughnuts… must have gardened today…” but probably not “wonder what his marathon time was?... wish I had legs like that…” Sleek, toned runner or not, he has the endurance and strength of a bear (they have endurance right?) and he has always encouraged me to run. When I was starting out, he told me to go ten times in two weeks and he would buy me my first pair of real running shoes. I still remember that goal egging me on when I was struggling through the first couple days of laborious breathing and screaming calf muscles.

I’ve never run fast, or crazy long distances. Mostly I have done it as a way to quickly, cheaply, and most effectively stay in shape. But there have been times when I’ve come close to loving a run for its own sake. When I lived in the Teton Mountains of Wyoming as an 18 year old, I began to run the trails in the surrounding foothills, and often found myself lost in the beauty of the late afternoon sun glittering through the golden aspens on a crisp autumn day. Ever since then I have found more joy in the moments of simple, patterned breathing and the solitude that allows me time to just think...or to reflect on the people and places I pass.

When I was in college, I ran on the cross-country team. I still can hardly believe it. But before you either laugh at me (as my aunt did, claiming it wasn’t a “real” sport), or falsely revere me, let me give you a little context. Remember the description of my dad? Well, shave off 40 years and you have the image of the young student who approached me one day as I sat in the dining hall, chomping away on lunch. He begged, pleaded, practically guilted me into joining the team, which unbeknownst to me was on major struggle street and needed any recruits they could find. The uniforms were from the early 70’s, and the waistbands had long since lost any elasticity. So, quite often, during my final sprints to the finish line I could feel them starting to inch their way down to my knees, revealing whatever other colors I had also put on that day (never expecting to showcase them to the world). It’s hard to take a runner too seriously when that happens.

In recent years, the pursuit of a running lifestyle has continued, if somewhat sporadically. Sometimes I will go consistently for months on end, continuing through pregnancies and the time constraints of young children.  But there have been times when circumstances have caused me to stop and sometimes remain that way for awhile until I get re-motivated or figure out a way to make it work again.

These past two months I experienced another relapse when my schedule didn't permit a regular run . Now, it’s back to square one, the drawing board, the tight lungs and aching, heavy shoulders. That first hill is killing me again and the second one does me in like a pile of bricks collapsing on my head. But, I know the energy it brings to the rest of my day when I have taken time to give my body a workout. I think this benefits not only me, but my family and the people I need to have the energy to be with and give to as well. I know that even though I would never dream of saying “God made me fast," as Eric Liddell once did, I do know a sense of the, "And when I run, I feel his pleasure,” He DID make me with a body that not only needs and survives on movement, but is invigorated and made more alive through it.  And part of experiencing that is knowing his pleasure in the way he created me.

If you don’t run, my advice to you is to start small and give yourself little goals. Walk fast and run for a couple minutes in regular intervals, slowly working yourself up and challenging yourself with longer times. Do what my dad did and give yourself the 10-time goal with reward of a pair of nice shoes, or running pants. TRY it… it could bring a lifetime of funny stories, healthy habits, and a nicer fit to your jeans. And for Plato’s sake, whatever form of exercise you do will help you to enjoy the body and human-ness God gave you and created you for.

Happy Trails.

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