Last Updated: 04/02/2013
By far the most common reaction I get from non-runners when they find out I’m a long distance runner and marathoner is some type of obligatory comment like “that’s great!” or “wow!” but their body language is saying “I don’t get it” or “You’re Nuts!” Some people are even more direct in voicing their bewilderment. My favorite comments include:
- Running a marathon is more dangerous than smoking
- You know that you’re destroying your body
- Well, I only run when being chased
While these reactions are frustrating, it is something I understand. For the first 30 years of my life, I hated running with a flaming passion. Running was punishment. Something you had to do when you made a mistake in practice. I always looked at marathoners with a sense of amazement, but also with a feeling that they were some type of freak of nature (like an alien).
I tried numerous times to become a runner, but I never seemed to be able to go farther than 3 miles without feeling like I would (a) collapse or (b) die of boredom.
When I reached my 30s, I started a new job, and began working with a lady named Mary Anne who had run over 30 marathons. I told her over and over again about my hatred of running, and she continued to encourage me to try it again. Eventually I did try it again, and again I seemed to get stuck on my 3 mile limit.
On one particular Saturday, I decided that I was just going to push past mile 3 no matter how tired I was, and right on schedule I thought that mile 3 was going to be the end of me. Then somewhere in the middle of mile 4, something clicked. I fell into this trance-like rhythm, and was able to complete 6 miles. I was ecstatic. From that moment in the middle of mile 4, I have been hooked. How could this be? I hated running? Yet, the next weekend I ran 7 miles, and then next weekend 8 miles, and so on.
So what is it that “clicked” on that particular Saturday? How did this moment transform me from someone that hated running into a hopeless addict. How did I become a person that has completed 13 half and 13 full marathons? I guess on some level I agree with the one who says they only run when being chased. However, the things that are chasing me are not wild animals or bad guys. They are the things that drive me, that push me to run, and run, and run.
So What is Chasing Me?
A High Stress Life – While I love my life, I have to admit that it is extremely high stress. From my job, to frequent speaking/teaching engagements, to family and church responsibilities, I can’t seem to slow down. Running has become my outlet, and my solace. Nothing can drown out the noise of the world like the rhythm of running long distances. I used to think that activities like golf and tennis were good outlets for stress, but they bring their own stress, especially golf. The only thing stressful about running is finding the time to do it. Otherwise, running is like the greatest drug in the world to me.
An Inferiority Complex / Scars from High School – To say that I was not very popular in high school would be a big understatement. I was shy. I was a nerd. I didn’t date a lot. I didn’t “party” with the cool kids. I did not play football. I was the last one that got selected for teams in PE and recess. I got picked on constantly. Now, I often wonder to myself how many of those that tormented me through those years can do what I can do. All of this just adds fuel to my addiction.
Small Fiber Sensory Neuropathy – Approximately 6 months after the moment when running “clicked” for me, and 1 month before I was supposed to run my first half marathon, I began experiencing some bizarre neurological symptoms that started in my legs, and quickly moved throughout my entire body. Running only intensified these symptoms (including numbness in my feet, arms, and face), and I was forced to stop. It took 7 months, and a trip to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to discover that I have a rare neurological disorder called Small Fiber Sensory Neuropathy. This is an auto-imune condition that destroys the small nerve fibers in the skin, leading to intense feelings of burning and numbness. The good news that I received at Hopkins was that this condition would not affect my motor skills, and the symptoms could be controlled by medication. Even though I lost a year of running due to the disorder, the medication allowed me to return to training, and complete my first 1/2 marathon 8 months after being diagnosed. When I started running again after my diagnosis, I was even more driven than before to run, no longer taking this ability for granted. It continues to be a major motivation for me.
Family History of Hypertension – Almost every member of my immediate family is on some type of high blood pressure medication, and I began to see signs of this in my own life very soon after I graduated from college (1996). However, since I began running in 2007, my Systolic pressure has consistently been less than 125, and my Diastolic less than 75.
A “Type A” Personality – Mary Anne often tells me that she knew I had a personality that was perfectly suited to long distance running, and that is why she talked to me about it so frequently. I am a “Type A” perfectionist, to the extreme. I think this is ultimately why running “clicked” on that Saturday in 2007. Once I pushed past that 3-mile barrier, it was something I knew I could do, and I wanted to do it really well. For the first time in my life I saw the possibility of completing a half, or possibly a full marathon, and I wanted to go for it. This insatiable drive to get better continues to push me through every training run, every track workout, every cross-training exercise.
Fear of Failure – I set lots of running goals, though I rarely share them with others. However, part of my motivation to continue running is a fear of not meeting these goals. This fear is exponentially intensified if I do share a goal with someone.
Well, there it is….the reasons why I run (at least many of them). Why do you run? What is chasing you?