Only when I started running again did I realize what I was missing during my three-year break.
I didn’t remember at first, though. Those first months of trying to regain what I had lost, of trying to remember what it was I used to love–I made it through those months on discipline alone. Discipline motivated by concerns I’ve never had in the past—high blood pressure, a soft belly, getting out of breath while walking the dog.
I complained to my wife about the pain when I ran. “I can’t remember how long it takes before running quits hurting.” She, the Boston Marathon qualifier, reminded me that it doesn’t. “It hurts. Unless it’s a real injury, you just have to quit whining and run through it.”
So, I did. And then one cold fall day, I snapped out of my day-dream and realized I was almost home from a three-mile run that was easier than a one-mile run a month before.
Though I’m still a long way from the half-marathon racing me of Christmas past, a five or six-mile run is again something I look forward to.
My lower blood pressure and leaner abs are nice rewards but are no longer the top reasons to leave the warm house and face the cold street.
I love the feeling of having done something hard. I chose to get off the soft couch, leave the comfortable home, and spend fifty minutes or so making myself stronger, healthier, and maybe tougher.
Along with that, I love being in competition with myself. Last week my longest run was five miles. This week, just once, let’s go for six. Next week—seven? There is a limit to the miles. It was training for and running a marathon that led to my three-year break to begin with. But I can always find ways to improve. Instead of reaching for another marathon, how about a faster 5K?
Also, it’s time outside. Most of us spend too much time inside, don’t we? I loathe running on a treadmill; I refuse to. Running outside makes me feel like a kid. Windy? Raining? Snowing? It all adds to the feeling of play. Last month I ran in a downpour, and I laughed every time I jumped over water. When I spend time outside running, I adapt better to the weather, and I get to experience the changing seasons on a deeper level. The cold air on my face is invigorating; the sounds and sights of fall are exciting.
Going for a run can also be time alone to think, or to not think and enjoy the quiet. By the way, I hate running with music; for me, it ruins the experience. There’s too much noise in my world for me to intentionally take it with me. Running awakens my senses and makes me more alive to the world; I don’t want to do anything that makes me less aware. I want to hear the dove, or the dry leaves scooting across the path, or the big truck speeding over the hill.
For the more socially inclined, a longer run is a great opportunity to get to know or spend time with people. My kids sometimes ride their bikes along with me, and those times can’t be replaced.
Only a few months in, and I already feel more balanced and grounded. I’m sleeping better. I’m in a better mood. And, despite my fears, my weight lifting isn’t suffering.
Already, I don’t dread the run; I look forward to it. I remember now what it was I used to love. This time, I don’t plan to forget.