Originally published in Runner’s World Magazine December 2001
A Decade of Hope
What I learned in my first 10 years of running.
I can’t believe it. My anniversary almost slipped by without my realizing it. If someone hadn’t asked, I might have missed it altogether. Wedding anniversary? Nope. My running anniversary. I’ve now been a runner for 10 years.
That’s a lot of my life. I’m 53, which means I’ve been running for almost 20 percent of my life. I became an adult at 21 (although many of my friends and relatives would question that), so I’ve been running for nearly a third of my adult life.
Giant, milestone anniversaries like this one are good times to sit back and reflect. During a decade of running, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned plenty of lessons. What follows, in no particular order, is some folly and wisdom from my first 10 years.
I didn’t begin running with a goal in mind. I didn’t get fired up about running a 5-K or a marathon. I didn’t have a grand plan, or even a not-so-grand plan. No, I started running so that I could eventually quit running. You see, up to that point I’d been a chronic quitter, and I took comfort in it. Of course, it never occurred to me that I’d be running 10 years later.
That said, if you’re waiting for the magic moment when you suddenly discover you’re a runner, you’ll probably be disappointed. Know this: There’s no great cosmic announcement, no news flash. There’s just a quiet accumulation of miles.
The most important element of my early running life was naiveté. From the 5-K to the 10-K to the marathon, I had no idea what to expect. No clue what would keep me going. And I’m not sure I would’ve succeeded in training for and racing those distances if I’d known all that was involved.
My early training was equal parts sheer lunacy and pure stupidity. I took pride in being injured and walking with a limp, and in being able to will myself to run through the kind of pain that would have brought a weaker man to his knees. I foolishly believed that tearing my body down was the way to build my body up. My ignorance almost cost me the ability to run.
In time, I began to seek the advice of those who knew more than I did—which was nearly everyone. I came to understand the limits of my body, the limitlessness of my curiosity, and the depth of compassion that runners have for each other. And I began to believe that I was earning a place in the running community.
But it was when I started sharing my thoughts and feelings with other runners—first on the Internet and later in this column—that running became much more than the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. It was through telling my own story, and listening to hundreds of other stories, that I came to see running as both an activity and a medium.
Ultimately I’ve learned a little about setting goals, training, racing, and recovering. I’ve learned a lot about succeeding and failing, about reaching past the probable and accomplishing the seemingly impossible. I’ve also learned that the struggle to find one’s potential as a runner is the most frustratingly satisfying pursuit many of us will ever embrace.
For most of us, running is the path we’ve chosen, and it can lead us to the hero within ourselves. We find that hero in the burn of the final 200-meter sprint of a well-run 5-K and in the determined trudge at the end of a disastrous marathon. And I’ve learned that we strengthen our spirits in moments of both abject joy and numbing disappointment.
My past decade as a runner has been marked by all of these moments—from out-kicking a hard-driving competitor to acquiescing to the frailty of my body, from moments of peace to desperate hours of failure. Through it all I’ve found that my life has been enriched beyond my wildest dreams through the simple act of running.
And there’s more where that came from. So please join me for another great decade!
Waddle on, friends.
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