Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How running starts

A friend emailed me to ask for advice. “How did you start running?” she asked. “I can't seem to get past thinking about starting running. I guess that's a start.”

Oh yay! I thought when I saw her question. There’s nothing I like better than talking about running! I rolled up my sleeves, metaphorically speaking, and flexed my fingers over the keyboard, literally speaking, as I readied myself to answer her question.

Except I didn’t know the answer, as I discovered when I tried to begin to write. I started running so long ago that I can’t remember how I did it or what motivated me.

I mean, I remember on an intellectual level. I was home from my freshman year in college, where I’d become familiar with the weight room and had lost some extra pounds doing long workouts on the stationary bike. I wanted to keep up the good work but I didn’t want to join a gym at home, so I decided to switch over to running.

But I don’t remember how it felt. I don’t remember if it seemed easy or difficult, or how I kept myself motivated to stay with it all summer. It was too long ago. Just a few months short of twenty-five years.

Since I couldn’t answer her question about how I started running I wrote to her instead to talk about what keeps me running.

“I can eat more,” I told her. (Less and less true now that I’m in my forties, but at one point it was definitely an operative factor.) “It gets me out enjoying nature and the outdoors every day.” (In sleet, snow or hail. In heat and humidity. In windstorms and downpours. But yes, it gets me outside every day.) “It reduces my level of mental stress.” (True, always. I give myself a pass from thinking about, well, anything, while I’m running. It’s just one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, without thoughts of home, family, work, or the world. I require myself only to think about the road under my feet. I let everything else slide out of my head for those twenty or thirty or sixty minutes.) “I listen to NPR podcasts, so it’s intellectually as well as physically stimulating.” Ah yes, NPR. I’ve listened to NPR while running for years, but once I learned about MP3 players and podcasts, running became almost secondary to the priority of getting to pick and choose my own NPR-listening schedule.

So even though I can’t remember how I got myself started, it’s easy to explain why I keep going. That and my membership in the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA). According to the quarterly registry I received from the USRSA last week, I’m currently # 185 on the list of active “streak runners” in the U.S., with 1,305 days of running a mile or more under my belt as of yesterday. The fact that I’ve already paid my $20 in USRSA dues for the year motivates me to try to make it another year.

I hope my answer was helpful to my friend, even though I wasn’t able to address her question precisely. And whatever finally gets her to go running, I hope she finds it satisfying and stays with it for a long time. Long enough that she too eventually forgets the reason she began.

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