Thinking about what it means to become and be a runner

So my disappointing long run the other day did turn out to be just a fluke… as I’d sort of thought it was even at the time. Yesterday I ran a perfect 10-miler that left me feeling entirely satisfied and ready to give myself some extra rest and a proper taper over the next ten days before the Whidbey Island race.

I spent some time after that run thinking about running and reflecting on the literal and metaphorical places I have been as a runner.

Off and on over the past few days I have mused quite a bit about the experience of running, about what it’s like to become a runner, to be a runner, and to discover strength, resiliency, courage, and happiness as a runner. I’ve been re-reading old blog posts (on this site and previous more private sites) from the period during and shortly after Kurt’s illness and death. I’m re-reading my words from that time because I’m working on a paper proposal for a conference… which may finally begin to lead in the direction of the book that I want to write about running through grief.

It hurts to look back and read words that screamed forth from my pain. But it’s also very heartening to see that I found sources of strength… and a big source of my strength was the fact that I somehow managed to get out there and run. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

There were plateaus and setbacks in my running ability and in my ability to hold my life together. There were times I thought I was going to rip my heart out of my chest. Then there were times when I knew that my heart and mind and legs were all strong and I was going to be able to put all the pieces back together.

Running has taught me — and continues to teach me — that anything is possible with determination and practice. I had to complete a PhD program at age 53 in order to finally convince myself that I am intellectually authentic. Learning to run since then has been something like a PhD program for the rest of me.

I’m tempted to say that coping with Kurt’s illness and death were the comprehensive exams for that second PhD, but I don’t want to contextualize or diminish that experience. I do wonder, however, if I’d have become such a dedicated runner if it weren’t for what happened to Kurt. Before his diagnosis, I hadn’t begun to challenge myself as a runner. I walked a lot. I worried about injuring myself. I never pushed myself hard to see how much more I could do. After his diagnosis I began to see running as something I could do to help myself — sometimes it was the only thing I could think of that I could do to help myself. It was the only thing that brought me any sort of respite.

After he died, running got me out of the house. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a reason to eat. It put things on my calendar.

Of course, it gave me places and times to cry.

And it gave me reasons to celebrate.

We all have our life challenges, and we all find our ways to cope.

By choosing to become and be a runner, I have found pride — satisfaction — peace — confidence — and a goodly measure of humility.

Life is short. Our days are numbered. How many steps we take, the places we go, the ways we choose to spend the time we have — these things are up to each of us to decide.

As for me, I’ve logged 250 running miles so far this year. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 steps just since January 1. They haven’t all been steps of sheer joy, but most of them have been pretty good. And they’re all steps in the right direction.

Slow and happy…

One step at a time!

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Posted on April 4, 2013, in grief, Learning, Running and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Lori- For all the pain of rereading those old blog entries, you gain a perspective of how far you’ve come. I think the sheer documentation of what it really was like to experience a particular time is invaluable, especially as our minds reinterpret it over time and with new experiences overlaying them. It’s ethnography of the most brutal kind. Plus, as you know, so few people actually write about it.

    • Colleen,
      You more than most people know exactly what I’m talking about… and I’ll be forever grateful for the ways that you supported me during that time. Yes, the perspective I’ve gained (and will continue to gain) is almost breathtaking. And I not only have written about it but I will continue to do so.
      My re-reading has triggered some nightmares over the past several days and I expect the writing to trigger more of them. But each step feels so good once it’s done!

  2. The phrase “intellectually authentic” jumped out at me – I think it is interesting to consider running that program for the rest of you. I know I have likened running to being another child, something I need to nurture and offer my attention to cultivate. I am so sorry for your loss and you have better words for what I’ve struggled with as far as not wanting to contextualize an experience for fear of diminishing it. It is indicative to me that blogging (or having a journal, writing in general, etc.) has a cathartic component but there’s a balance to be struck between making sense of an experience and shoehorning it into some sort of big picture.

    • Homa,

      I agree… there’s a fine balance in this sort of writing, between putting it all out there all raw and tangled, and tying it up with a nice neat bow of just-right words. I like to think of my blogging (which is really just a more public form of journaling) as a “rough draft” of whatever it is that I’m in the process of learning. I do learn through my writing, and I learn new things when I go back later to re-read.

      I suppose we learn through running in a similar sort of way. The body does get the hang of it after enough practice. I no longer have to worry about fundamentals like not tripping over my feet! And yes, there is an authenticity that emerges when you are out there… there is no room for pretending or lying to oneself about what one is doing.

      Hmmm… I like the idea of developing bodily authenticity through running… I think I’ll play a bit with that idea… thanks!

  3. Lori there is just so much rich thought in this post! I am thrilled to think that you will one day take all that you’ve been learning and put it into a book. You have such an important message to share. I think that what you’ve learned as a runner is incredibly inspiring to athletes and those with very strong physical goals, but the same messages come through for anyone needing to emotionally just face each day putting one foot forward at a time. You used running as a tool to get up in the morning and move and find yourself slowing mending from the shattering experience of such a profound loss, and everyone, at one point or another, needs to really think about how we need to find a way to restore our own brokenness. I’m so glad your “next run” was successful. I really love hearing about your journeys–both running and emotional! You express yourself beautifully!

    • Debra, thanks.
      I think the writing has been just as therapeutic for me as the running. They both have a distinct rhythm, an ebb and flow, and a definite “zone.” I really like the way they complement one another. I think about things (or not) while running, and the physical activity opens the way for the mental/emotional insights that I then try to express and enlarge through writing.
      It’s all pretty cool that way!
      🙂

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