I was an active kid. If you’re curious at all what I was like as a wee lad, then watch my son for a bit. Yep, I talked to myself, ran around a lot, loved being outdoors, played with bugs and spiders, and could get lost in space between the words and white space of a good book, pictures optional. I’m a brown-and-grey-haired version of #Dutchumentary. He and #Heidirooni are so active, fun and free. As much as depends upon me, I want to be there as they grow up.
It was a sad lack-of-activity-ness coupled with natural curiosity that got me back into running a few years back. This November will be four years since I took a mile jog to see if my left foot could withstand the pounding. That’s the foot I ran over with our Jeep Wrangler before the kids were born. (Yes, you read that correctly. Turns out it is possible to run over your own foot with your own car, provided it has a short wheel base.) Essentially my left heel became the emergency break, and a small metatarsal fracture latter and subsequently minus having a healthy fascia (foot arch) meant I was wincing in pain.
So, “I can” is the first reason why I run. It beats sitting all day, which is killing us (and negating the good of exercise). Plus, I’d like to make a runner out of you, since there are so many health benefits from running, even surprising ones.
Running is fun. At first it was anything but fun. I think those first miles returning to running in 2010 were a brisk eleven minutes a mile. Couldn’t tell what was worse: aching legs or burning lungs. What happened to me? Why couldn’t I just get out there and run fast and far? Being thirty-something and sedentary really stung. I vaguely remember the good ol’ days of being young and athletic, and now was neither. But you know what’s fun? Setting small goals and reaching them. And setting some more. And your wife noticing and saying you don’t seem so out-of-shape anymore.
- Running is a metaphor for growing spiritually. The Apostle says we must train ourselves in godliness, which is far better than just “trying.” In that way it’s a picture of all of life. Do today what you can do by direct effort so that one day you may be able to do what you couldn’t possibly do today. (A secret to overcoming injury are short hill sprints.) Every day is a good day to grow, just as every day is a good day for a run.
The wind at my back. Usually the wind is in me face, even when there’s no breeze. The faster and further one goes, the more resistance. Yet I feel His pleasure when I run. Sometimes the endorphins pop and I get that “runner’s high” as to glide along, but mostly it’s just miles and miles of pushing myself. Oh, and it can be lonely on the roads and trails, but that is where I found solitude, peace, and time to pray. With a mentally and emotionally charged job by day the physical exertion is a welcome release. If it’s o-dark-thirty and you hear the words of a man praying aloud in Oregon City, sorry but not sorry.
To heal & strengthen my body. That foot injury was minor compared to fracturing a vertebrae in high school. To that end I live in daily pain, but it seems far less chronic when I’ve been regularly active in healthy ways (that is, training with intentional periodization rather than randomly exercising when and how ‘feel like it’). The common assumption is that the ‘pounding’ of running wears a body down. I’ve found the total opposite is true. It is through the safe and consistent mini-poundings one endures those major poundings life brings (concrete actually gets stronger the more weight it must bear). Many people turn to prescription painkillers in this situation; running has become my “drug” of a choice, a healthy coping mechanism that frees me up to become whole. (Another shout-out to short hill sprints, which simply put have become my secret sauce for health and speed.) » Running has rejuvenated this aging body and there is no way I could enjoy the duties of fatherhood, nor emotionally engage with our kids, if I had to return to the former days of debilitating pain and stiffness. (Note: the gains have been slow and there is no quick-fix to becoming healthy. Take the long road and avoid the “terrible too’s.” It’s more scenic and satisfying. Persevere.)
Because I’m just an above-average athlete. My parents had three sons and it’s fun to consider how each of us were made. Growing up the youngest I always had my big bros to look up to, to try to emulate their athleticism and achievements. They taught me everything I know about sports: from shooting hoops, to throwing a slider, to kicking a corner kick in soccer, to having soft hands to catch a football. They were my first heroes. Plus, I am so proud of the men they have become! It’s no exaggeration (nor a discouragement, and I mean that Mom!) to say I may be the least driven and least athletic of the three of us. High school coaches let me know about that last part. The cool thing is our parents did not drive us into sports or try to live vicariously through our achievements, an all too common sad reality for our friends. In terms of athleticism: the two older JP’s could run faster, jump higher, and were elite athletes. There’s those things called fast-twitch muscle fibers (e.g., for quickness) and then there’s slow-twitch (e.g., for endurance). One brother can still out-jump us even with a bum knee (and is a stellar surfer, skateboarder and SUPer), and he’s a bundle of fast-twitch-ness. The other is still quasi-quick yet he too has an insane tolerance for pain as he swims-bikes-runs (an avid cyclist, now triathlete, even an Ironman); he’s a strong balance of fast-and-slow-twitch-ness. Raw talent has been honed through intense training. It’s fun to look back and notice how each of us excelled in different sports back in the day, and while none of us does those now, probably the one common activity we share today is running (and more importantly, being fathers). All those sports are now distant memories for me: a long-ago rotator cuff injury means limited throwing and I lack the patience to not try to (foolishly) throw out runners at first base from the softball outfield, and thus aggravate it all over. Creaky ankles and that broken back made retiring from basketball necessary. Running somehow makes the title “athlete” real again, no matter the pace of one’s running. Greatness if good repeated over and over. It’s running up hills you used to run around. Despite racing against strangers or trying to win back a segment on Strava, I don’t have to complete with my brothers. Brotherly camaraderie is competing alongside one another 1, not against one another.
Because String Cheese no longer described me. I grew up as a very skinny kid (our skinny son doesn’t believe me) and my brothers have called me “String Cheese” for decades. Yet two years ago I was not very “stringy” and weighed 19 pounds more than today. I’m now down 26 pounds from the day we were married. This meant that for a decade I was tired and felt sedentary. What happened to the former days of a fast metabolism? Did String Cheese eat too much string cheese? Today I weigh the same as I did as an athlete in high school, without all the acne. 😉 Running helped me manage that sweet-and-salty tooth, but it really took going on The Plan with my wife to get fit again. (Nutrition is just as or more important than exercise. Being healthy is a better goal than ‘looking good.’) I’ve since discovered areas of my life where more discipline is needed (eating, parenting, organization, leading), and moderate successes in returning to health have spilled over into those. If only one could improve in every area all at once 😉
Having goals pushes me forward. Not long before that Jeep injury, I verbalized a desire to train for a sprint triathlon (swim—bike—run). Took most of a decade later to train in earnest but last month I completed my first sprint triathlon, placing 8th overall and first in my age group.
- (The last reason is half-terrible, but it’s reality …) I run so I can be ‘successful’ in something other than work and family responsibilities. Especially something that helps me become better in leading my family and leading the church. Here’s the rub: I’ve seen too many whose job for them is the sum expression of their worth as a man — especially pastors who vicariously justify themselves and feel ‘approved’ if their church is ‘successful.’ Planting a church reveals and displays all one’s fears, foibles and failures. Yet it’s not a competition. Running helps me simply compete at something without the emotional highs and lows. My worth as a man is not in running 5:48 per mile in a 5K race (below), or a sub-1:28 half-marathon, yet these goals remind me that sitting back and being passive is a poor option and not very manly. So, I run to remind myself that every area of life can be improved, strengthened, trained. Never give up.
And hopefully with that in mind our kids will run with me in the real race of life and think I am the godliest man they know, and my wife will want to marry me all over again. That’s worth running for.
Why do you run? Why don’t you?
- “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” — Romans 12:10 ↩