Learning to Run

About a decade ago I published a newspaper column declaring my universal disdain for running. It hurt my shins, I bemoaned. It made me itchy, I groused. It burned my lungs, I whimpered. The long litany of complaints was neatly wrapped up and tied together with numerous strings of justification.

Then, suddenly yet deliberately in early 2003, I tossed off such lame excuses and decided to give my body-and, especially, my mind-the opportunity to become a runner.

The distinction of this new season of cardio adventures was that I somehow found the patience and discipline to literally walk before I ran. My wife Jenna, a lifelong runner who has completed half-marathons, deserves plenty of credit for her insights and encouragement, and she also was the one who pointed me to Runner’s World magazine’s online training guide.

The guide offered a simple 12-week program that even I could understand. Want to learn how to run for three miles without stopping or dying? Spend 30 minutes, three times per week, alternating 60-second intervals of walking and running. For the first week, just walk for a minute, run for a minute, walk for a minute, run for a minute, and so forth. The second week, walk for a minute and run for two minutes. The third week, it’s three minutes of running…and onward.

I never even made it to 12 weeks-I graduated early! One day I boldly decided to run the entire 30 minutes. I finished. My heart soared. My mind roared. My body had somehow along the way cured itself of shin splints; simply, I believe, by doing the running and outgrowing the pain.

Fellow runners taught me how to stretch, how to exercise my calves, how to prepare. I learned that I needed to run on an empty stomach in order to avoid cramps; it simply was how I was wired. I learned the value of good music pumping through my head while I ran. I discovered I could spend time thinking through a sermon or a talk I was to give or an article I planned to write.

Not many weeks after my triumphant debut as a bona fide runner, I entered my first 5-K race. I decided to start near the beginning of the pack, and quickly found myself at the end. It is one thing to run by yourself; when you surround yourself with competitors, you step into a whole other level of adrenaline, and realize that your preparation was somewhat lacking. You wonder how people who look so out of shape can be faster than you are! I was determined to at least finish, even if last. I found myself praying, “Lord, just keep these legs moving.” I did finish (somewhere near the end.) It was a joyful moment.

Conquering the hurdle of running became metaphorical for me. I realized there were other parts of my mind that had clung to negative beliefs, to a sense of limited potential, to a surrender toward circumstances being simply what they were. If I could learn to run, I realized, I could learn to thrive in many other aspects-in relationships, in business, in civic and spiritual life. The common factors at play were determination, discipline, and patience.

Each of us is hounded daily by an unfinished project, by a draft from a window that has not yet been shut but has not been boarded up either. The “ought to’s” will hound us as long as we have critical thinking and longing.

The blessing is realizing that they are never as out of our grasp as we allow ourselves to believe. If we will persist long enough to outgrow the pain that has lingered from previous failures or regrets, we will find the healing that sustains us.

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