If you are a runner, especially an utra runner, you have probably heard this before: “I don’t know how you do it. If I try to run for more than 20 minutes, I get soooo bored.” Or how about this one: “Agghh, I can chase after a ball or a puck all day long, but if I have to run, I get completely winded. It’s really hard and terribly monotonous! Why would you want to run for 10 hours?”
The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines running as “to go faster than a walk; specifically : to go steadily by springing steps so that both feet leave the ground for an instant in each step.” This describes the essence of running about as well as the essence of a person is captured in describing him or her as having a head, two arms, two legs and a torso.
But in fairness to dictionary writers, what it means to run is as personal as each individual with a head, two arms, two legs and a torso. As such, I can only describe what running means to me.
I love to run because after a busy day, it gives me a chance to be alone and away from all demands. It`s a time to be free, a time to unplug and a chance to tune into myself.
But running also gives me an opportunity to catch up and spend quality time with friends. Running has cemented many a friendship, as we share the joys, trials, tribulations and milestones of life in animated conversations during a long run. Many of these friendships have endured over decades.
And running itself is like a good friend, always there for me to give me strength, comfort, stress relief and confidence when life throws a challenge at me. I appreciate running, because it can show me who I am as a person. How do I deal with challenges, fatigue, competition, adversity – what attitude do I chose, how do I motivate myself to keep going when the going gets tough? The characteristics that help me get through a tough run are exactly the same as those that will help me get through anything life can hand me. Each time I get through a difficult run, I become more confident in my physical and mental strengths.
Running is always fair in that it gives me as much as I put in. Running has been a fantastic way to experience the majestic red sand dunes of the Namib Desert, the dried up riverbeds of the Kalahari, the cobble stoned streets of Europe and the trails of Australia`s Blue Mountains and New Zealand’s Remarkables. I love running through strange towns or landscapes to explore what`s around the next corner. And even in my own town, running means discovering unfamiliar trails, unknown parts of my neighbourhood, getting to know the neighbour`s new cat roaming around outside.
When I run, I get to feel the elements – wind, rain, snow, sun. I adore coming off a trail on a warm, rainy day, mud splattered all over my legs and a big smile on my face, feeling like a kid again.
And I love runners as much as I love running. I value meeting people who, through the simple act of putting on a pair of running shoes, have transformed their lives and the lives of others. Ordinary people who, through small deeds of courage and determination, have motivated, inspired, coached, challenged and supported. People who have defied serious illness or addiction, coped with loss or redefined themselves to become the person they always thought they could be. People who amaze by simply getting out there and doing what some might think impossible. You guys know who you are and I appreciate having you in my life!
Through running, I have become part of a global family of people who live their lives with passion and a positive outlook every day. Through running, I have met the love of my life. I enjoy seeing people smile and wave at me as I run through their neighbourhood. I love it when people cheer me on in a big race and treat me like I am a rock star. I love the amazing volunteers who will give me a hug at the finish line even though I am all sweaty. These same volunteers celebrate me like I won the Olympics, even though I was the 1793rd finisher.
This summer, running will help me save the lives of kids in West Africa, as I’ll run across the Gambia as a fundraiser for health education programs. Each day, it saves my own as my fitness has been a blessing in dealing with heart and lung issues.
When I run, my rational brain gives way to the creative side and I often gain new insights on issues I`ve been grappling with. I adore the feeling of being tired after a run, knowing that I have done something for my health – both physical and mental. I love how a latté tastes even better at the end of a long training run or at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And there’s nothing like the feeling of standing in a hot shower or jumping into a cold lake post run.
No, “to go faster than a walk” doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it is to run. I think the words of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning come much closer to describing what running is to me: “How do I love thee. Let me count the ways. [….] I love thee to the depth and breadth and heights my soul can reach. […] I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life.” Liz, I think that’s more like it!