I like to tackle topics of the mind, body, and spirit. Today I am going to center on the body, in particular, running although the mind and spirit are definitely integral in this endeavor. Even if you are not a runner or even feel like you could never be one, hear me out on this one, you might just change your mind about it.
I just started going for a run again on Thursday. Back in high school, I ran all the time. I was in football and track. I was the skinniest I ever was in my life back then. I quit sports by my senior year and the only running I did after that was mostly when I was in the military. I did run a little about 10 years ago and even got up to running about 3 miles once. I will tell you, that was not an easy feat. Since then I have wanted to get back to it but just could not get the motivation to start again…until now.
I was talking to a friend on Wednesday about my backpacking trip with my son, brother-in-law, and nephew into the Big Horns this last August. This new friend of mine was actually the man who sold me one of the packs we used on our trip. He was working for a sporting goods outlet that was geared toward helping young people get into sports and outdoor activities. He is now a paraprofessional teacher that works with me and my students. He told me about one of his backpacking experiences and then told me he was an “ultra runner.” I had never heard of this so I asked him what it was. He said that an ultra runner will run for 50 to 100 miles. I asked him, “All at once!?” He confirmed this. I then asked how long he runs usually in one stretch. He told me for about 11 hours. This amazed me? I don’t even like to spend 11 hours in a car, I can’t imagine running for this long! I discovered that an ultra runner does not necessarily “run” the whole way, at least not all of them. Some have to pull over to puke, go to the bathroom, grab a food item or something to drink from the helpers along the course, or even just walk if there is a big hill to go up. Walking for 20 steps every mile is also a strategy.
After hearing about some of the technicalities involved with running such a long distance he then described his usual training routine. His training runs, which are usually daily, where marathon length, roughly 25 miles. Now this blows my mind! I was pretty proud of my 3 mile run that I did once several years ago, I didn’t know people ran more than a marathon, it was merely inconceivable. Forrest Gump did it, but I thought this was simply a story that added entertainment, not that anybody would truly “Just Keep Running!” After hearing all of this I felt motivated to give it a try again. After all, if a person can run 100 miles, I can certainly run three again, and even train up to run at least a half marathon, or even a full one! You might be reading this and saying to yourself or your phone or computer screen, “I would not even run unless I were being chased by a dog.” This is a statement I have used before jokingly, although I rather enjoy running, I also like to make people laugh.
Now, let’s get into the mind part of running. My friend had some good things to say about how much our mind plays a big part in our success. He said that if you think that you have reached your limit, you have. I believe this to be true. When we were backpacking in the big horns, I had not trained myself other than going on some very short hikes and without much weight on my back. When we were about a quarter of a mile from our destination in the Lost Twin Lakes it started snowing…in August! My son and I were so tired it seemed like we might never make it, however, we had to! The only other option was to set up camp in the middle of the trail among the rocks and that was not going to happen, especially given that we could not even build a fire above 9,000 ft. and we were at between 10 and 11. I kept telling my son, “Take this one step at a time, the place where we can set up camp is just ahead. We can do this!” I was not in great physical shape, my body felt like it could give at any moment, and it was starting to get dark. When we finally got over the last hill and could see where we would be camping I yelled, “Thank you Jesus!” I can tell you that much prayer took place from about half way up until this point. Prayer under these circumstances is powerful! Think of it this way, we can talk ourselves up pretty good to get things done just by sheer will, but add the power of God to the mix and you can accomplish anything! Had my son and I said to ourselves, “I am done, I cannot go another step” we would have been finished.
How many times have you seen a marathon runner collapse at the end of the race? I bet if that same runner knew he still had 26 miles to go he would keep running and collapse after 26 miles. After all, he/she has told themselves that they are finished. My friend explained that he kept running even with a swollen knee which happened about half way in an ultra run. He was forced to stop and seek medical attention otherwise he would have kept running. The moment he realized he would no longer be running he collapsed and had to be helped and somewhat carried to a place where he could rest. Even when he did not feel like he was done, the moment he was told he was, he could go on no longer. I know he could have gone further because he had run a 100 mile race before, although not injured, but it was not the injury that stopped the previously mentioned race, it was someone who forced him to stop. He was enduring the pain. This is something else he spoke of. He stated that you have to resign yourself to the fact that you are going to suffer. Once you have done this, you will push through the suffering and eventually find that your body can endure it. Now, I am not saying that tomorrow I could simply join a 100 mile race and live to tell the tale, after all, my friend was training by running a marathon daily! It would take commitment and mental tenacity for me to reach that level, but I think if I really wanted to I could do it. Right now I am just going to set some goals. My friend stated to consider running for time and not distance, so I set a goal to run/walk for at least 30 minutes. The first time I did this on Thursday I expected to at least make it a mile or so. I did not pay attention to the distance, only the time and by the end I had run for 2.5 miles, Friday for 2.7 miles, and today I ran for over 3 miles in 35 minutes. Previously, after weeks of running, I barely ran 3 miles and was exhausted. Today, my legs are sore, but I have resigned to suffer. It did not feel like I ran that far and I could hardly believe I had it in me and only on my third day! I am planning to run a 5k on Thanksgiving and I have friends that are joining me on this journey.
If you are not a runner, overweight, getting up there in years, or are one of those people who do not run unless you are being chased by a dog, I urge you to give it a try. If you have a medical condition that keeps you from running and you can at least walk, give that a try. Set goals and achieve them. Do not let your mind limit you. I love stories of how people overcome great obstacles, even when they are disabled or people keep telling them they can’t do it. The following story about Matt Stutzman is quite inspiring. I have shown it to my class a couple of times. If a man with no arms can shoot a bow, and as an Olympian no less, a man WITH legs can certainly walk or run a few miles! Have a great week everyone!