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Classic Chronicle Archives

Originally published in Runner’s World Magazine January 2000

Are We There Yet?

I've always liked traveling by car. And, I've always subjected my family to my terminal wanderlust. On many occasions my then young son would moan from the back seat, "Are we there yet?"

My response was always. "Yep, we're here." He would sit up eagerly and look out the window. Then, in a disappointed voice, he would say, "Aw, Pop, this isn't where we're going," to which I would reply, "But this is where we are!" He was not a happy traveler.

Every time I started a journey of fitness and better health, including the "diet du jour,” the first thing I did was choose a destination. I'd decide that when I had lost 10 or 20 pounds (or eventually 50 or 60), I'd be thin. So every day I'd stand at the scale and ask myself if I was there yet. Of course, the answer was always no.

Oh, I'd get closer; for a day or two. I'd lose a few pounds, put a couple back on, then loose a few more. I'd get stuck in a cycle of 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Each time I went back, it was harder to move forward.

When I found running, I decided that when I could run 3 miles I'd be a runner. I was convinced that 3 miles was as far as any rational person would want to run. Most days, I STILL think it's as far as any rational person wants to run.

So I'd run, and not make it to 3 miles. Day after day I failed to reach my arbitrary destination. Day after day I accumulated evidence that I was NOT a runner. Every run convinced me that I was not a runner. I wasn't there yet.

What I didn't know then about running was what I DID know about traveling. Postponing the joy of the journey until you reach your destination is the WORST possible plan. Waiting to celebrate until you've gotten to where you want to go means missing all the wonderful places you pass along the way.

In my ignorance and enthusiasm to reach my running goals, I took every possible shortcut. I was sure there was a magic carpet that would transport me to my destination. It never occurred to me that I'd have to get there one step at a time.

Every new runner knows the game I played. If running 3 days a week is good, running 6 days a week must be TWICE as good. If running fast 1 day a week improves your running efficiency, running fast EVERY day must be better still. When such ignorance collides with enthusiasm, the result is almost always injury.

The truth didn’t reveal itself to me the first time I was injured. Probably not the second or third time either. But eventually, as weeks of recovery replaced weeks of training, I began to understand. Every run is a gift. Every run is a chance to be where you want to be.

With that one thought, my running changed. I stopped deferring the joy I was feeling. I stopped accumulating days of failure. I started looking at each run, at each time I moved my body, as an opportunity to learn, to see and experience what was in front of me at that moment.

The results of that change are not merely philosophical, but practical as well. Recently, while traveling, I found myself running in Burlington, Colorado. It was Wednesday morning, the day I normally do some faster interval work.

But on this Wednesday I found myself in the middle of acres and acres of sunflowers, neck deep in a sea of yellow in the bright morning sun. I knew the speed work would have to wait. On this day, my gift to myself was to run surrounded by thousands of smiling yellow faces.

I'm still not there yet. I know that. On the days when I struggle to find a pace or a distance that suits me, I know that I'm not there yet. But I am where I am. And I can tell you that it's better than anywhere else I've ever been.

Waddle on, friends.

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