Running Myself to Life
I do not like running. Let us get that clear. I have always been of the opinion that if you saw me running you ought to start running too because something bad was chasing me. And here I am… I’m running every other day for between 30 – 45 minutes. I started in July and here we are in the beginning of September and I haven’t quit yet. I do not enjoy it. I do not find it peaceful. I do occasionally feel successful when I hit a new milestone. But when I’m running what I wish to be doing is not running. My body is sore. I do not get a “runner’s high” from the exercise. I feel like I’m running myself to death…. But I know otherwise.
I’m running myself to life. My medical insurance plan is trying to be proactive to get us to live healthier so we will have less health costs (not entirely altruistic on their side, but still in my best interest). I visited my doctor and, as has been the case for years, she says, “You should exercise more.” I crack a joke about running around after four kids and working a job that has night meetings and no real weekends. I list all the excuses why I do not have time to exercise. They aren’t bad excuses. They aren’t unique to me. And you know what? They will seem hollow if I don’t live to hold my grandkids in my arms.
I want to celebrate major life events with my children and I want to hold them and cry with them in moments of great loss. I want to see their dreams realized and let my heart break with them when those dreams cannot be. What I don’t want is to have all that cut short because I couldn’t find time to take care of myself.
As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a powerful reflection from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
In modern life, people think that their body belongs to them and they can do anything they want to it… This is one of the manifestations of individualism. But… it also belongs to your ancestors, your parents, your future generations, and all other living beings… Keeping your body healthy is the best way to express your gratitude to the whole cosmos. (Living Buddha, Living Christ, p. 106)
And then I’d go one step farther. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all inter-related. We cannot neglect one without expecting it to have negative effects on the others. This is an aspect of discipleship the church has almost always neglected – as if we could train up spiritual maturity in a vacuum divorced from the rest of life. Attending to our physical health is as much a part of responsible stewardship as any other more traditional task. Our bodies are a gift given to us by the universe, by God, by our parents, by everyone who has invested in its nurture and growth. Their gift deserves our responsible care.
I have been cheating the future by over-indulging the present. So no. I don’t like running. But it’s an investment. It is an investment in responsibility that in a world where many factors cannot be controlled (like if I get hit by a bus or get cancer or happen to have, as I do, genetically bad cholesterol) I will take control of the parts that are very much my responsibility. I will run. I will run myself to life.
So what about those excuses which weren’t made up? What I am finding is a couple things. Consider this my tips for getting started from someone still very early in the learning process:
- Know yourself. I am not a morning person. I don’t try to run early. I have tried it before – and failed miserably. Sometimes I run in the heat of the day. Is it the most effective time to run? No. But it’s the most likely time I will actually do it – and that makes it’s the PERFECT time.
- Start small. I decided I would just work on what I could do in a 30 minute workout and that is all I would tackle. Healthier eating could happen later. But setting unrealistic goals aids the excuses. Repetition and discipline is more important than making huge strides.
- I find I do eat slightly healthier without trying because I don’t want to ruin the effects of running… but I’m NOT on diet. And I’m not working on this… its just a byproduct that is its own good.
- I don’t have a “b” but I don’t want the outline rules folks to tell me I needed to have one.
- Start simple. I prefer riding my bike. But its extra steps. I have to pump tires, have more equipment maintained, get to a good biking path, and actually have my bike with me. It may not be much – but its more complication. More complication just lends voice to the excuses. So while I don’t like running it is also extremely simple. No gym, no equipment (though I did buy better shoes), and no real need for great intentionality – when the time presents itself I go.
- Double up. I have taken to running at parks where I can do laps while watching the kids play. This way I’m not forcing Caroline to watch four kids while I run – not that this isn’t a good idea from time to time, and not that she would do it – but again. Simple. Keep my methods agile. I also have taken to running during my son’s soccer practice. I used to play games on my phone, or do email, or make up an errand I didn’t really need to do. Now I run and that time was already boxed off for me on my weekly calendar.
- Give grace. My target is 30 minutes. I don’t care what the 30 looks like, and occasionally it’s had to be 20 minutes. I try and do 40 the next time when that is the case. But I’m not trying to build it up to a larger and larger time. I try not to beat myself up when, for whatever reason, I stop early or end up walking. My trick is consistency and consistency is happening because I’ve made it agile and easy to fit in. The moment it becomes more… well, we’ll see. By then maybe it will have become a large enough priority that I can make it happen – but I’m not promising anything and that feels good to me. This is all about giving myself grace to make it work simple and small.
- Don’t Compare. Other people run faster than I do… a lot faster. Some only walk. I see them, they see me. We even wave sometimes – it’s almost like a club without dues to be paid. We are all already paying actually! Anyway. The point is that we are out there doing it. Forget faster or slower, shorter or farther. None of that matters. It turns out you aren’t me and I’m not you. So if you need to compare than do so against yourself. This isn’t a race. This is about improving and caring for you. Yes I’m impressed by the chiseled physiques of the people who go blazing by me. I’m plodding out there with my sweat soaked shirt, I probably look like I’m gasping for air, and I know that nothing about me says, “I’m cool.” And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. I’m not doing this to impress you. I’m not running to lose weight, or get more muscles, or impress anyone. I’m doing this to live longer and better.
- Get cheerleaders. I run alone (unless my son joins me which he does once in a while). I do that because it’s easy and agile and easy and agile is what is getting this done for me. It’s easier, I hear, for others to make themselves run if they have a partner. That’s great. There is no right or wrong here. What makes it do-able is right. Regardless of what works for someone else. But you need cheerleaders. I post my runs on Facebook through an app. I do not do it to brag. I don’t do it say look at me. I am doing it because I feel like I’m responsible to people who have taken notice of my running. I feel like they will call me on it if I don’t post a run. And you know what – it feels good when they hit “like” on my run. Particularly when it’s the people who run marathons and triathlons and post times well beyond anything I can conceive of. I’m affirmed. I’m accounted for. I am cheered on that what I’m doing matters. Needing a little bit of cheerleading is NOT narcissism. Its about encouragement – it’s the cloud of witnesses that egg us on as we run the race that is set before us. Self-care not only gets healthy habits but it recognizes that we need community to encourage us to keep it up.
- Express gratitude. I’m not doing this well yet so here is my start. Thanks for being cheerleaders. Thanks for encouraging me in a practice that feels so bad even while I know on some level it is good. And an even bigger thanks to my wonderful wife Caroline for being willing to deal with me ditching out on the end of bath time or whenever it is that I disappear for 40 minutes to go run. I couldn’t do it without you. And lastly. Thank you to my kids. Who reminded me that my life is not my own. Who challenged me without a word or a glace to make sure I have done what I can to be there for the tears, the laughter, and the love.
I AM running from something when you see me. I’m running from excuses. More than that I’m running towards… I’m running towards a better future than what was in store for me a month ago. What about you? How are you being called to health? Let me know – because I’d like to be a cheerleader for you too!