A Runner’s Heart

Like most teenage girls, I think, I read all those cheesy romance novels. I wanted (still want) romance, bliss and happily ever after. The embarrassing part is that if I’m honest, my earliest inspiration to be a runner came from a teen romance novel. I don’t remember the title or much of the plot, other than girl fell for boy, boy didn’t know she was alive, girl started running and transformed herself, felt good about herself, they fell in love and lived happily ever after. In particular, I remember the description of her first return to running. It was raining lightly, and she hated running in the rain. But then she talks about finding a rhythm, getting into her zone, and everything falling together , and that is what I wanted. To lace up my running shoes, find my pace and feel like I could run forever, all my troubles melting away.

And so, inspired by high school romance, I tried to run, but after about a week, my knees started to ache and I gave up. It took another twenty years, but now I am a runner, and I’ve found lots of reasons to keep lacing up.

10. Romance. Ok, there might have been a time or two when there was a girl involved. Maybe that teenage romance novel wasn’t so far off base.

9. Because romance doesn’t always work out the way I hope, and because life is full of losses, I’ve found that running can help to heal a broken heart. I have my eye on the Big Wild Life Marathon in August  … marathon training takes lots of hours and keeps me focused on something other than being sad. Kristin Armstrong says it this way,

It’s an odd thing, when your body says no and your mind and your spirit say yes. It’s frightening and empowering and clarifying and beautiful all at once. It was the past year of my life, shortened into a span of 26.2 arduous miles. It was the culmination of experiences, the knowledge that my body can be pushed past its breaking point, just like my heart.

But besides the time commitment and distraction, there’s more…

8. The runners’ high. Running grounds me, and the endorphins are amazing. If I’m not feeling good before a run, I’m usually feeling great by the time I’m done (other than the blisters and sore muscles, that is).

7. Running gets me outside, and I love to be outdoors. Yes, I do run in the winter (thanks to Skinny Raven for putting hex screws on my running shoes!), because it can look like this:

Westchester Lagoon in winter

And in the summer, it can look like this.

Lost Lake Run, August 2011

There’s also the bonus of the wildlife. Bald Eagles. Herons. And yes, the moose that have time and time again thwarted my runs because we don’t always share the trail well.

Moose on the Eagle River Nature Center trail

6. Cool stuff! T-shirts, medals, free beer, goodie bags with coupons and samples.

5. Runners are amazing people. They often nod, smile or wave when they pass you on the trail. And when they find out you’re a new runner, they are beyond encouraging. Fellow runners can help keep you going on those days you aren’t sure you really want to be out on the trail. In the GLBT community, Anchorage Frontrunners always welcome new runners of all abilities, meeting Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. at Westchester Lagoon. Don’t miss their 2nd Annual Tuesday Night Pride Fun Run/Walk and BBQ at 6 p.m. on June 5.

4. Being able to talk about running has been a whole new way to connect with people at work. As a chaplain, it usually isn’t appropriate for me to say a whole lot about my personal life. But running is different. Suddenly, I’m a member of a club I didn’t know existed. Suddenly, I can swap stories with nurses and doctors and dietitians about the next race we’re running, how the last run went, and everything from what to wear to what to eat to why we keep lacing up. I’ve been surprised at the number of times running has opened up a conversation with parents of sick children, about how we keep ourselves healthy, spiritually and mentally grounded. And there are many, many races and organizations providing opportunities to raise money to fight disease. Running makes a difference.

3. Running has truly become a spiritual practice for me. It’s meditative time. It grounds me. It makes me stronger, and strengthens my connection – to the ground beneath my feet, to the air that sustains my breath, to the people who are my community, and to the Source of all that is. An Amish runner quoted in Runner’s World magazine said

I love the serenity of running alone as well as the fellowship of running with a group. I realize that every step, every breath, and every PR is a gift from God.

2. The support. My family is proud of me, and having them cheer me on at my first marathon meant the world to me.

Go Aunt Susan! You can do it! Keep on going!

1. Running has taught me that I can do the thing I didn’t think I could do. Growing up, I was the brain, the smart kid. I was never the jock. I tried sports – I got cut from the tennis team every year, and the season I joined the swim team, I came in last in almost every race. I’ve never had trouble accomplishing academic or intellectual goals. But when I decided I would run a marathon, I had no idea if I could do it. I’ve never in my life set aside so much time and focused so hard on such a difficult task. I never would have imagined I could run for hours at a time. I’ve never made something a priority in the way that I prioritized my marathon training. And on October 10, 2010, I completed the Portland Marathon. What I gained from that race was far more than a finisher’s medal. Runner’s World Challenger of the Week Laura Saladino says it well:

The biggest reward of marathon training is confidence. A 20- or 22-mile training run cannot be purchased, and it can’t be rescinded. You are the owner of that strength, and it is a powerful force when life tries to knock you down. You have evidence of your tenacity, your ability, and your passion.

I’m not fast. I’m not likely to win any races, but it thrills me when I get a PR. Army Sergeant Jennifer Morris, deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, says

I don’t have a runner’s body, but I have a runner’s heart – and that is all you need.

I too am grateful to have a runner’s heart.

About me: Susan is a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, serving as a hospital chaplain, and has mostly gotten used to being the “lesbian poster child” in her church. She finds the Sacred all kinds of places — in the mountains, in church, at a hospital bedside, in the midst of a heartfelt conversation, running along the coastal trail, in music that makes her cry and stories that make her laugh.

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