Thursday, December 10, 2015

Story of a Dream: Taking Running to the Next Level

Yesterday, a friend posted the following question on her FB page (So What? I Run):

TELL ME: If you've been contemplating on taking your running to the next level, what's stopping you? OR, If you finally made the leap, what gave you the courage?

There are a few distinct dates in my running life.

Before the spring of 1984, I just thought of running as something I would do to help with cardio for soccer or basketball.  In the spring of 1984, I joined the track team in my freshman year.  After having had glasses for three years and two soccer seasons, I turned my attention to a new sport.  My first race was a 6:45 1600m (essentially a mile) race.  I was lapped on a four lap track.  I didn't give up.  I got much better over the remainder of my high school years.  I surprised someone at church recently by the fact that I still have my junior year cross country sweatshirt, it is in pretty good condition, and I wear it. 

I lost my passion for running at the end of high school.  Other than one attempt with a friend at a 5K in college (my senior year), I didn't run much.  Same was true for five years in Ann Arbor.  Same was true for our first three years in Baltimore.  And between August 16, 1999 and January 1, 2006, I can count on  one hand the number of times I ran.  

Courage to come back started with realizing my weight was 185 lbs.  That is not too excessive for someone who stands just about 6'1", but it was not where I had ever been and it was not where I wanted to be.   

First, I got back into shape.  One night after worship band practice in early 2007, someone suggested I train up to a half marathon distance.  So the next bit of courage came as part of a challenge.  I got up to the distance in 2007 but failed to register  early enough for the half marathon portion of the Baltimore running festival that year.  I took time away from running again.

Then, in 2009, I got my act together.  Self-discipline and a positive response to the previous challenge drove me to run the half as part of a race.

In 2010, I received my last promotion at the School of Public Health where I work and found out that several people I knew had run the full marathon in 2009.  I treated myself to marathon training in 2010.  So, that was just chasing a dream.  I dream I hadn't imagined in 1984.  But a dream I have now pursued for almost six years.

The first marathon went okay but not great for me.  I responded by making a serious attempt to qualify for Boston.  Took me three more tries, but I got it.  I ran Boston and thought I was done.

But someone I had met in Boston (a friend of a friend when I met her) was a coach.  And the pressures of my body aging (I turned 44 in 2014) made me want to try one more time for a personal best.  To push myself well below 3:15 (my fastest ever was below 3:15 to qualify for Boston but not by much.)  So the dream became 3:10.  And I was blessed to achieve it at the Philadelphia marathon in 2014--thanks to a coach who got my body ready, and a series of friends either watching the race or running the race who helped me spiritually to reach my dream.

Again, I thought I might be done, but one of my training partners off-handled comments on how she consistently runs faster when we run together.  That, plus the need for a good qualifying time for an ultra marathon I was planning for 2016, led me to my latest very good run at the Freedom's Run marathon.  At that point, the inspiration was to help a friend as much as it was to help myself.  Given how much of my running had become social and spiritual and not just "as a means to do better in two other sports" where running started for me, this seemed like a natural progress.

Finally, where did the inspiration for an ultra come from?  I read about it in Runner's World several years back.  It is international.  I have colleagues where the race is being held.  And I could arrange a work trip that will end with the race.  And I will get to push myself one more time to see just what my body can take.

There will be a lot to learn.  There is for each marathon.  And at the end of the day, whether running has come as a means to an end, to lose weight, as a response to a challenge, as a test of my self-discipline, or as just part of seeking a dream, in each case, it has been about learning something about myself.  The more I run, the more I search and explore my motivations and the more I understand my body and the wonderful thing we call life. 

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