Monday, March 23, 2009

When a Runner

Today I ran with a friend who does not consider herself to be a runner. She says "Sure, I can do it, but...."

There's this whole, possibly wide, 'but' category of traits or characteristics or behaviors that define a runner, that she does not think she possesses, or perhaps, does not want to possess. What's up with that?

This 'but' category is both objective and subjective: Admittedly, there's a certain level of intensity, drive, commitment, regularity, preference, lifestyle, ease, competitiveness, introversion, extroversion, confidence level, fun, proficiency, talent, and struggle, and then some, that constitute a runner. I suppose this can be intimidating to those who have not actually given running a fair shake. Or maybe it's off-putting because they are really not that interested.

Justin is a newcomer to the sport, a few years now, and he's in his early forties. It's been a pleasure to witness his transformation from uninitiated to fully internalizing the runner's gestalt. We recently chatted about this experience after a Sunday run. He commented how difficult it was for him at first to stick with it. He did not like it: It hurt and wasn't fun. And, he was 25 pounds heavier. Yet, he persevered.

I suggested there was likely a part of him that had always wanted to be a runner. Somewhere, somehow, he had been exposed to the benefits of it, or the passion it ignites, or the athleticism it promotes. Whatever, it looked really good or sounded really good and he wanted it. Today, he is living it. He has lost the weight, can easily cover ten miles, and less, more quickly, and is starting to tune into his own inner rhythms and workings. He stopped using his i-pod during runs and now prefers to run without it. He enjoys the natural simplicity of it. Justin is a runner, and he calls himself such. What a terrific accomplishment!

I think this is such a terrific feat as it took me well over a decade to identify myself as a runner. I ran for many years, participated in many races, and even had a modicum of success, though never could call myself a runner. I saw runners as those in the above 'but' category. That was not what I was doing, or thinking. I was a wanna-be.

This harkens back to when I was 13; I remember hearing a motivational speaker passionately talk about his sport of running - all the good things it brought to his life - the health benefits, discipline, time management, self-confidence, success, accomplishment. I wanted it! I tried to run. I dabbled around my hometown, a mile here and there, never putting many miles together but really wanting it on a deeper level. In the meantime, I played sports - soccer, basketball and lacrosse - a lot of running certainly, but not for its own sake.

Later, I started to run more, for pleasure and for sport, until finally, in my early 40's, I claimed the title of runner. It took me a long time, and more importantly, it required an integration of the activity with the right mind-set, a belief in myself and my capabilities, and owning the outcomes - the real results. It was a long process and continues to change with age.

The bottom line is, if you want it, just do it, and keep doing it. It does get easier, and you too, can be a runner. Believe it.

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