Running is more than a competitive sport: for many it's the key to a healthy lifestyle.
The great twentieth century philosopher, Joseph Campbell was a miler in college. Although running began as a competitive sport for Campbell, it became part of his lifestyle. Campbell, believed that physical activity was part of the process of self actualization: the journey we all take as adults to determine who we are, and our role in the world.
For each runner who toes the line at the PF Chang's marathon in January, there is a story of self-actualization: the journey of many steps, and many miles that led him to the starting line. For some, training was a way to get in shape or lose weight, while other experienced marathoners trained to improve their race times.
When I began running as a member of the high school track team, my coach told me that "running today is the first step toward running forever." He was right. Although I no longer run competitively, my daily run is a way to reduce stress. Away from the office and my personal commitments, it is time to spend alone with my thoughts, and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the desert trails near my home.
Running provides me with focus and perspective: it keeps my life in balance. Little things that drive me crazy return to what they are: small events in the big picture of life.
To race or not to race.
For some runners, racing is an important part of the sport. The race provides a point of focus after months of buildup: crossing the finish line is a reward well-earned after countless early morning training runs, and weekend long runs on the canals.
The marathon is different than shorter races: just reaching the finish line is an accomplishment. For some, the final grueling miles are a life-altering experience. Illness or an unexpected injury prevents others from finishing the race at all.
As much as training for and running a marathon has to offer, it's important to understand that the rewards for those who line up at the start have little to do with the race results. While some may exceed their expectations with personal best finish times, the fact that others do not in no way diminishes their accomplishment.
Beyond the finish line
My guess is that each person toeing the line this January will have at least one story about how running has changed his life: be it an "aha" moment on an early morning run, friendships within the training group, or the feeling of well-being that physical fitness brings.
Whether any of these runners ever races again is irrelevant. What is important is that they keep moving, realizing that running is a journey that extends far beyond the finish line.
I would encourage each of the runners competing in January, but especially those suiting up for the first time, to take a good look in the mirror the Monday morning after the event. Does the reflection in the mirror look the same as it did before training began? Chances are, this person looks better, and despite the tired feet and sore muscles, feels better too.
Running is a way to tame the monster inside each of us: the fear that keeps us from looking further, and reaching higher, by limiting our ability to dream. Running a marathon teaches us how far a positive state of mind can take us: to the finish line of a race that by any reasonable standards, is too long for the body to endure.
Running teaches us to appreciate movement for its own sake, along with other simple pleasures that make life worth living. It allows us our solitude, and that solitude makes us love, and appreciate our friends and family all the more.
Running is my morning cup of sanity. After all the years and all the miles, my life wouldn't be the same without it.
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