Life lessons from running

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This morning, I logged a five mile run over a grass course loop I made up at a nearby park. I finished with two laps around the quarter mile dirt track that is part of the park which allowed me to figure out my distance based on my finishing pace. Eight minute miles is a far cry from the five and a half minute mile pace I used to run when I was twenty-nine, but then I am not the same person I was then in many other ways.

I really enjoy being back to running after a ten year layoff. When something you love is taken from you and comes back you have a much greater appreciation for it. In my 20’s, I was too busy trying to see just how fast I could cover a distance to really appreciate just being able to run. By the time I was 35, the hard realization of knowing I had run my fastest times and no amount of training was going to change what father time claimed.

Today, I am fortunate. Father Time has been replaced with leisure time. I am in no hurry. When I taught, time was always a factor. Each class period only afforded so much time to teach what needed to be taught before another class came in to learn. There were deadlines that had to be met, papers to grade, parents to call, and meetings. In 30 years I can’t think of a single meeting that didn’t go longer than it had to.

I also coached several sports and again time was always a factor. Keeping practice going at a swift pace while making sure assignments were mastered, conditioning covered, and issues were addressed within a limited amount of time was always a challenge. Games were set to clocks that wound down and all too often one team was left wishing they had just a little more time.

Now, I am retired. In the three years that have passed since my retirement, I have tried my hand at a few things, gotten divorced, moved twice, remarried, and have had a few medical issues including back surgery in February. Today, I feel great. Not perfect, but great. I just had an epidural for a neck issue, but still, I feel pretty fortunate for the health I enjoy. My recent blood pressure checked in at 117/76 with a resting pulse of 48. At 59, those numbers match close to what they were when I was 29.

When I was busy chasing running PR’s, I was unaware at the time the unnecessary pressure I was placing on myself and the harm it was doing. Some men in their 20’s were chasing their first million at a time I was trying to shave a few seconds off my 10K time. I took quiet pride knowing I excelled at something that placed me in the top one or two percent of runners, but like those looking to fall into the top one or two percent of the wealthy, it didn’t matter much to other people how fast I ran.

I did not brag about my running times. When I met others who said they ran, inevitably they were the ones to ask what my 10K PR was. When I told them, they often seemed awed by it. For me, I simply ran for myself which was why I always ran by myself. I was too busy chasing my next goal to enjoy a relaxing jog around the park with my wife or a friend. Running was serious business and I didn’t have time to waste it on a leisurely run with another person.

That’s too bad because today I have nothing but time to enjoy a leisurely run and because I do, I see my running in a much different light than before. In my 20’s, my running was best represented by an hour glass whose sand was dropping into the lower level faster than I wanted. I knew I only had so much time before I was no longer able to push myself to a level that resulted in another personal best. When that final grain dropped, I became lost as a runner.

I continued to run, but my body had its share of limitations and no matter how much I tried to adjust, my mindset remained stuck on trying to push myself to a level that really meant nothing. I cut back on my distance and frequency hoping I might still regain some youthful magic but was constantly reminded of my advancing age. Eventually, an accident would take running away from me for ten years.

Six weeks ago, I managed to start running again and magically, muscle memory has kicked in much faster than I expected. Five miles passed today much slower than the younger me would have been pleased with, but I found comfort in the rhythm I established as I ran my grass loop six times. My watch served only to tell me how long I ran for and nothing more. Distance was not as important as enjoying a lost love and seeing it from a much different perspective. I was in no hurry today. I simply set out to enjoy the early morning cool air, the trees, the grass, and watching others as they circled the track at their own pace, in their own world, without worrying about what others were doing.

I know enough to know that eight-minute mile pace is still pretty good for a 59 year old coming off back surgery. I also know I can go faster if I push myself, but if I do, what’s it going to get me? There is nowhere I have to be so why bother? Instead, I prefer to find out how long I can go, not in terms of mileage, but in terms or years of enjoyment. I’ve lost running once and am in no hurry to lose it again so why wreck my body trying to find out how hard I can push myself before it rejects my sick perversion of time.

There will be days I feel better than others and run faster than today, but what is most important is knowing how fortunate I am to get a second chance. I will still log my runs in a journal and mark down my pace periodically, but no longer am I burdened by the pressure of my youth to hit certain times. Instead, fast or slow, the key is embracing what was once taken from me and making sure to enjoy it while I still have it. That’s the real life lesson that has taken me decades to learn from running, but one I plan to appreciate every day from now on.