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Run For Your Joy

When my father was in his early 40's he gave a motivational presentation to a group of sales people at his office. He found a video that showcased a runner achieving a goal that fit the message he wanted to get across. The more he watched it while preparing, though, the more he personally found himself fascinated. He had never been a runner, but felt quite inspired by the video to give it a try. He headed out to the local community college track, in a pair of converse and some old sweats, and off he went. Well...until he discovered that he could barely run one lap, and was not in the best of shape after all. This was going to be much harder than he thought.

If you ever met my dad, though, you'd know that one of his finest qualities is his undaunted enthusiasm. He didn't quit that day. Instead, he went out and got better running shoes, read everything he could about running and joined a local runners club. It became his passion for many years, and he went on to participate in a number of marathons, including qualifying for and competing in the Boston Marathon. My dad's running was a large part of my childhood. Hearing him talk about it, and even going to the finish line in a few of his races to cheer for him as he crossed. I was very proud of his commitment and accomplishments, and it was obvious how happy it made him.

So naturally in my 40's I thought it would be great to run a marathon also. I was coming out of a difficult divorce, and thought the challenge would do me good, to prove my mettle to myself and get in shape. Like my father, reality hit hard at the start, and I found even running short distances very challenging. My shins hurt, my muscles protested, but mostly I truly struggled to breathe. I got winded so quickly. But I was determined, and kept at it. Unlike my father, however, no matter how much I trained, I didn't make much progress. Undeterred, I downloaded a "couch to 5K" app on my phone and forced myself to run/walk about 5 times a week. Of course I did get a little better over time, but not the way you would expect. Breathing was always very labored, and after months and months of effort, I still had to walk part of the 5K race I did with my daughter. It was fun, but I felt pretty discouraged. Over the next several years, I kept revisiting the marathon idea. I had made that commitment to myself, and I don't like to be a quitter. But every time I restarted, I faced the same issues. It become a point of self doubt and personal self shaming. What was wrong with me? I had this goal that just kept eluding me, and that didn't set right with my usual go-getter mentality. But running that marathon remained a sore spot that kept getting sorer.

Eventually, several attempts in, I was diagnosed with severe anemia. This explained SOOOO much about why my cardiovascular conditioning was not cooperating. I simply wasn't getting enough oxygen, and my red blood cells were sickly and malformed. It took a couple of years to get that under control, but I am happy to say that I did. NOW was my moment to finally run that marathon, I thought. It had long been on my vision board, so that meant I simply HAD to do it. So I set out on what will likely be my last marathon try. You probably think I am going to tell you that I finally made it, and ran 26.2 miles!!! But no. This story has a different, but equally happy ending.

I ran and I ran and I ran, several times a week. I was seeing improvement at long last, but dreaded going out every day. I was pushing myself grudgingly along one morning, as usual, mumbling to myself about how much I hated running, when I suddenly just stopped in my tracks and started to laugh. Wait...what?? I hated running, I realized. Not because it was hard, or because I lacked drive or willpower. I had achieved many other fitness goals in other realms over time, that took just as much work. I was getting better, so it wasn't that either anymore. It simply dawned on me in that moment (more like crashed into my psyche like a ton of bricks) that I just really didn't enjoy running. After all those years of making myself do it, I came to the startling conclusion that a marathon was on my vision board, but actually had always been someone else's dream. I was copying what made other people happy and fulfilled, without ever stopping to ask myself if it did that for me too. How could I quit then, you ask? Right when I finally could run several continuous miles, after all that time?? I don't know - I just did. I walked home, and spent some time pondering on what fitness activities light ME up. Which ones bring ME joy? Which do I personally like to do? I love to dance, and am active in that community now. I am a big fan of yoga, but I adore hiking best of all. It is a fantastic conditioning workout that uses the entire body, and you're out in the fresh air communing with nature. I have been lucky enough to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and backpack on the ancient Inca Trail into Macchu Pichu. And guess what? I even hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in one day...about 24 miles. Pretty close to a marathon distance, but I did it my way.

Let me make it clear, my dad never, ever pressured me to run. Not at all. That all came from me trying to emulate him and make him proud. Trying to prove something to myself, I suppose. But I gave myself permission that day to change my mind, and follow my own heart. The truth is, I never had to be a marathoner to make my father proud of me. He loves me for ME. It was my own soul that needed to learn that lesson - to love and be proud of myself. So while I may never run in a marathon race - I am committed to running fast after joy every day of my life, for as long as I live. Bring on the next wilderness trail. I am ready for it.

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