My brother inspires me in multiple ways – musically, spiritually, intellectually. Now, physically; he has taken up running, this person who was always musician rather than athlete, and he has persevered. A few years ago we were at the beach on our yearly family vacation, and I saw his perseverance; I watched him as he laced up his shoes and left the house; I saw his sweat-soaked shirt as he returned. I saw his muscles strengthening and sensed his mind focusing and thought to myself, I need some of that.
So I started running, not the least because there’s always been a small kernel of competitive drive when it comes to my brother. If he could run, certainly I could run. I am the big sister, after all.
And it wasn’t that complicated; I put on my shoes and just….ran.
Truthfully, I walked, mostly. Because I’d run for a while and then I’d start to feel it: the stitch in my side, the heart working harder, the strain in my thighs. My mind would begin to wander. So I’d stop, because I’d be reminded of a simple truth.
I’m not a runner.
I’m a lot of things, but ‘athlete’ has never been a label that stuck. I played softball as a teen, but I did not excel. Frankly, fast-pitch softball scared the crap out of me. I was much more comfortable in the slow-pitch church league…until I tried to return to that sport after 20 years and five kids and promptly fell down trying to run out a grounder to first base. I lettered in golf in high school, but I found that boring – and a sport that doesn’t involve working up a sweat never seemed truly athletic, anyway.
I’ve tried running in the past, but it was more like an excuse to get out of the house for a while during the most overwhelming, chaotic years of child-rearing. I did train for a 10K about a decade ago, and I finished – but I never felt like I ever figured it out. I still didn’t feel like a runner.
So two years ago, even as I put on my shoes and ran out the door, it seemed like I was simply doing a thing that other people do – that my brother was doing – and trying to be like them. Because, based on past history, I obviously would never really be a runner.
Until on one of those walking runs I stuck my headphones in my ears and listened to Krista Tippett talk about running as spiritual practice. I was immediately interested, because there’s an area that I am sure of: I am a spiritual being. I am interested in spiritual things. And I was immediately drawn into this discussion of the spiritual implications of this physical activity.
From the very first words, I was hooked; Tippett called running “a passionate force and a connector across all kinds of boundaries…not just as exercise or merely physical pursuit…a source of bonding, interplay between competition and contemplation…running and body image and survival and healing.”
For the record, I can pretty much listen to anything Krista Tippet talks about and be completely captivated (if you aren’t familiar with her On Being podcast, I encourage you to dig into the archives and prepare to be inspired, informed, and blessed).
In this particular episode I heard something that changed my life. Literally.
It’s funny, how you get past the half-century mark in age and sort of think you’re on the downside of life-change and watershed moments, only to find that instead you’re living in a sense of openness and readiness, being presented with ‘aha’ moments and revelations at an unprecedented pace.
Yeah – it gets better. It truly does.
Anyway, Tippett talked with several folks, runners who approach and experience life and running from varied perspectives. The resonance, for me, came when Christina Torres talked about her journey, from non-athlete to actually running the LA Marathon. Listen to the podcast; you’ll hear her reveal that running was always associated with other things that she wasn’t good at, a marker of shame. Then she took a different approach and began to walk/run, and eventually could run 30 minutes without stopping. Torres says, “I was like, oh, my body can do this.”
She went on:
“So for me, though, once I started running it was really hard to be angry at my body in the same way. I would get out on the road and, all of a sudden, step by step, it was like running myself back to myself in a lot of ways. So it’s nice to know that there’s always going to be this place I can go where it’s just me and the road. And there’s something really beautiful about that.” – Christina Torres
That resonated with me, on the other side of fifty years old. I was struggling with the way my body was aging, the physical things that used to be easy and automatic that were now reminders of restriction and the finite nature of the flesh. The phrase ‘running back to myself’ was a powerful push towards truth in me.
She talked about a mantra, and that spoke to me as well.
Torres’ final words were the ones that impacted me – it was one of those moments when you feel all the power of the universe saying, ‘THIS IS FOR YOU’.
“I always used to tell people, ‘I’m not a runner, my body could never do that.’ And once I did it, it was this feeling of, ‘What else have I been lying to myself about?” Like, ‘What else have I been hiding from ‘cause I was scared?’ ” – Christina Torres
I have applied this thought to several different areas of my life in the past two years. What else have I been lying to myself about? This sort of introspection requires an immense amount of grace; we lie to ourselves almost always because of pain. We do what we can, not what we can’t; we do the best we know how until we learn better.
But at some point, it’s worth asking; it’s imperative that we ask ourselves if we’re operating out of untruths. False senses of identity and ability keep us from becoming the people we are created to be. Sometimes those things seem all-encompassing, huge; sometimes it seems that to question who we are disturbs the very essence of our existence.
That can be scary.
But it can also be freeing.
Last week, I walked into a store that sells running shoes. When the saleswoman asked if I needed some help, I affirmed that I did.
I said, “I met my goal; I logged 200 miles, and I told myself when I hit 200 I would get an official pair of running shoes.” Deep breath.
“I’m a runner.”
Truth. And now, I get outside three or four times a week to run and walk. I discovered that I prefer being outside to the treadmill – there is some huge connection outdoors to my childhood, during which I spent loads of time roaming the woods and fields behind our house in rural Pennsylvania. The meditative and spiritual components of my body, mind, and soul begin to percolate as I move through trees and dirt and grasses and pavement and sky; I lace up my shoes and hit ‘START’ on my Nike Run app and I put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly. In my head, in my heart, I keep pace with a rhythmic, eight-syllable declaration of this new truth:
You’re stronger than you think you are. You’re stronger than you think you are.
There are lies we tell ourself that have outlived their purpose. It’s worth figuring out what those are for you; because, just like me, you’re stronger than you think you are.