Doing the Impossible

Doing the Impossible

I am not a runner.

When I was growing up, the southern humidity made me sound like I had asthma when I tried to run, and I had doctors’ notes to get me out of PE running requirements through college.

Seriously. I’m not a runner.

It took my seminary boyfriend (who’d finished the Chicago Marathon himself) surprising me with a visit to a running store and an adamant, “We’re not leaving until you buy running shoes!” to get me to give it another try. And if I was going to spend that much money on a pair of shoes, I was at least going to try.

I was in my mid-thirties. It was January in Chicago. And a few blocks at a time, it worked.

At first, I really couldn’t run more than those few blocks, but he would run backwards in front of me while I walked and caught my breath, and then coax me into a few more blocks. In the freezing air, I felt like I could breath, and slowly but surely I built up to a whole mile, then two.

I still wasn’t a runner.

When he broke up with me (taking my post-graduation plans with him), running helped me survive him. In the gym or on the pavement, I could funnel the energy of hurt and anger and frustration through my feet until I was exhausted. And I began to realize that running regularly – five or six days a week – was giving me an ability to handle stress I’d never had before. I could stay focused on work and studies, and things that felt impossible to handle weren’t overwhelming me.

I wasn’t a runner, but I kept running.

A few years into two or three mile morning runs, a friend, Josh, who was new in town overwhelmed me with his enthusiasm and I agreed to register for a half marathon. That’s 13.1 miles, and the race was the third week of July in Chicago.

It was clearly impossible, ridiculously unthinkable. An absurd decision.

But I’d paid the registration fee (races are expensive!), and Josh kept telling me I could do it. Keep running three miles each morning before work, and start adding one mile at a time each weekend. And if I was going to spend that much money on a race, I was at least going to try.

And one week at a time, I did.

By the time I was up to seven miles, it felt impossible. It was getting warmer out, and I knew I couldn’t make it. But…maybe I could run to that tree up ahead? And then to another one… And then to the cross street… And then… I’d run seven miles. It wasn’t possible, but I had!

And then it was eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Every week I was doing what felt impossible, and by the time I ran that half marathon with my friends, I’d started wondering what other impossible things I could do. I joined a dating service and went on first dates with strangers. Found a new church. Met remarkable people doing amazing things to change the world. Eventually changed jobs. Moved into the City. Adopted a grumpy old man of a cat.

And kept running, even though I’m not a runner.

I never enjoy running. I enjoy the being outside part – the sun, the breezes, the Lake, the people and dogs. But I don’t enjoy the running part. It never feels good, sometimes it just feels less bad than other times. But life always feels better when I’m running regularly. Even when it’s hard and I don’t know what to do, I can go for a run and know I can do the impossible.

Running isn’t about running for me, it’s about living.

This past Sunday I ran the Chicago Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I did it in memory of my father, because I’m living years he didn’t get. I did it for friends who’ve lost people they love to ALS, the same disease that took his life when he was just 31. I did it because I love this City, and running through its neighborhoods with the sun and the breezes and the Lake and the architecture and the people felt like a celebration of that love. (Chicago was showing off Sunday!)

And I did it for me. Because it was time to do something else impossible – gloriously, ridiculously impossible! And now I’ll see what other impossible things I can do.

I’m not a runner, but I run because it’s taught me not to be afraid of impossible things. And I run because there are more impossible things to do.

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For the Ones Who Keep Going

For the Ones Who Keep Going

This weekend I ran twenty-two miles.

That’s a lot. That’s actually crazy. It’s the farthest I’ll run until the Chicago Marathon on October 8, which I’m running with the ALS Association in memory of my father, Karen’s sister, George’s uncle, and so many others who’ve suffered from that terrible disease.

Training for the marathon has been a lot of work. I’d never run farther than thirteen miles before this summer, and the second thirteen miles is a lot harder than the first thirteen.

I don’t enjoy running. I love the being-outside part, the seeing-the-Lake part, and the long-term-benefits-to-my-mental-and-physical-health part, but the running itself? It never really feels good. It’s just hard, sometimes miserably so. The best part is the hot shower at the end.

This weekend, when I finished the twenty-two miles (in 90 degree weather!), a friend told me how proud of me they were. That it’s no small thing to take on one’s first marathon, particularly at 45, and that they are really proud of me.

Hearing that meant a lot.

It also made me think about who I’m proud of for doing hard stuff.

I have a friend who is really struggling with life right now. Lots of things have gone wrong in the past few years, and he’s dealing with deep discouragement and depression. He’s struggling to get life to work for him and fighting to remember the reasons he has to stay alive. His kids, his mother, his girl, the friends who love him. They help, but it’s still so hard every single day.

And I’m so proud of him for every single day he stays alive and keeps going. Because when I run, yes, it’s hard, but I know where it ends, and you can get through most anything if you know when it will end.

But my friend doesn’t know where it ends – when it gets better, and he keeps going anyway. He keeps fighting for every day.

I learned a long time ago that I don’t live well without hope. But I also learned that hope can be so painful. When hope doesn’t come to fruition, it can break your heart and drain the life right out. That kind of pain is hard to live through, and unrelieved pain deadens us. I’ve known seasons of numbness, and I hate them. I’d rather hurt than have that kind of safety. You can’t be open to joy and life and love unless you’re also open to pain and loss.

That’s part of why I run – to help me believe that I can keep going. That I can endure the unthinkable. And that when the pain of disappointed hope is breaking my heart, I can send it down my legs and through my feet into block after block of pavement. And I can lift up my head to feel the sun, and know the relief of being done when I reach the finish line.

A marathon, 26.2 miles, is no small thing, but it takes so much more to keep going when you don’t know how far there is to go. And I am so proud of the ones who just keep going.

Nothing to Prove

Nothing to Prove

I used to run because I didn’t know I could.

This year I ran because I knew – I could.

When I was growing up in North Carolina and East Tennessee humidity, my doctors wrote notes to excuse me from running in PE classes. When I ran for any distance, I’d start to wheeze like I had asthma. I didn’t, but the combination of the exertion and the air I was breathing created an allergic reaction that made me miserable.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I started to run at all. In the middle of a snowy Chicago winter, my seminary boyfriend (who had run the Chicago Marathon) took me to get fitted with running shoes and coaxed me into trying.

At first, I couldn’t make it more than a few blocks. We’d walk a couple of blocks and then he’d start me running again. In the biting, dry winter air, even when I started breathing hard from the exertion, I could always breathe freely. It wasn’t long before I had worked up to running a whole mile at a time, and then two.

The relationship didn’t last, but the running did (and I’ll always be grateful to him for introducing me to one of the healthiest habits of my life).

It wasn’t until more than five years later that I even thought about running more than the approximately three miles of a 5k.

An enthusiastic new friend talked me into signing up for a half marathon. That’s thirteen miles. The third weekend of July in downtown Chicago. The one time of the year the humidity approaches southern levels.

I knew it was impossible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. The idea was ridiculous. But trying the training at least would be good for me.

So I started in the spring. Every weekday morning I ran three miles, and then one weekend day I did my “long” run. The first week it was three miles, then four, adding one mile each weekend. Five miles, then six – those felt challenging but doable. But once I hit seven, it felt impossible.

And each week, as I finished another impossible distance, I was doing something I couldn’t believe I was doing. I started to wonder, what other impossible things might I be able to do? What inconceivable things could I venture to attempt?

I finished that first half-marathon – ran every bit of it. I’ve run three more since. And as I proved to myself that the first year of training was no fluke, I began to discover depths of determination in myself and a comfort in my own skin I’d never known.

I’m the energizer turtle – I’m slow, but I just keep going.

Every year, as winter ends and I hit the sidewalks each morning to see what the Lake looks like at dawn, I’ve wondered, Can I really do this? I’ve run to prove to myself that yes, I can.

But this year was different. As spring came to the city, and I started to run in March, I knew I could do it. I ran because I could. I could find my feet, my rhythm, my pace. I could stretch myself, and I could go farther.

It’s a difference that’s about more than running. It’s about living, unafraid to fall because I can get back up again and keep going.

As a teenager in the middle of chaotic circumstances, my mother found herself largely on her own. She never wanted me to feel that way, so she made sure I knew that as long as I was single, I had a place at home and I didn’t have to be on my own.

That gift unintentionally left me in a place of never really trusting my ability to take care of myself. It was only after years of paying my own way and taking care of my own bills and car repairs and obligations that it finally sank in that I really could do what I’d been doing all along. Somewhere inside I could finally stop trying to prove that I could take care of myself.

I could just do it and get on with living.

Every morning as I lace up my running shoes and head out to find a path to the Lake, I’m not doing it to prove to myself that I can any more. I’m doing it because I can and I know it.

And it’s time to just get on with the living.