Early on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I slip out of the house before my children awaken. I head down to the quaint seaside town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, not for a beach day, but to participate in the Spring Lake Five, a five mile road race, which, in the past 35 years, has transitioned from a small town happening to a nationally recognized event. The race was founded in 1977, as the running craze was gaining momentum on the heels of Frank Shorter's Olympic marathon win in 1972.
My father was part of that 1970's running explosion, taking up the sport at the age of 40. He rose before dawn every day to "get his run in" before going to the office, and took off every Sunday morning to run with his "tribe," which included such heavy hitters as Dr. George Sheehan, who authored several books on the sport and for a period of time, served as the Medical Editor of Runner's World magazine.
I went to my first road race with my father when I was in fifth grade, where he let me participate in the 1-mile fun run. Soon thereafter, he bought me my first pair of Nike waffle soles, and I trained with him a few times a week, slowly increasing my distances to 5K races.
Even as a child, I appreciated the sense of freedom running gave me, allowing me to exist outside of my every day space, and the responsibilities and challenges that awaited there. I was an awkward kid. I struggled with my weight and never quite fit in socially. While running, my pre-adolescent woes melted into the pavement. I felt liberated.
I had drifted away from running for a number of years but found it again in my late teens, except this time, it was less for finding sanctuary and more a frantic attempt to control my weight. Each mile was about burning calories. It became a punishment to a body for which I had little, if any respect.
By my early 30's, my life and my priorities shifted and running once again became an oasis, the place I went to clear my head. After having children, running provided me time away to decompress from the demands of newborns and endless loads of laundry. It also provided me with a place to test my limits. I began increasing my distances. The more I pushed my limits on the pavement, the more confident I became to push my limits in everyday life. Sometimes I would push too far, which would result in exhaustion or injury. Every time this happened, it was a life lesson in refining the toggle between effort and letting go. If we hold back in life, we don't get very far, but if we charge too hard, it's a safe bet we'll crash and burn.
Last November, I ran my first marathon. After completing several of the ever-popular 13.1 mile "half marathons," I wanted to "go the distance." I arrived at the starting line in Philadelphia with a cold and a sore hamstring, and began the race with the understanding that there was a good chance I would not finish. I knew I needed to listen to my body every step of the way. It would be the ultimate test in keeping that balance between effort and conservation.
I took it slowly, hydrated at every water stop, and checked in with my hamstring often. I chatted with the runners around me, striking up camaraderie with those in my pace group. They cautioned me to be careful on my leg yet inspired me to keep going. And I did.
I head to the starting line of the Spring Lake Five. With 7,000 participants, we are wall to wall runners. I have been on a semi-hiatus since the marathon, because I instinctively knew that my body needed a break. Five miles is the most I will have run in the past six months. For a moment, I question whether or not I'll be able to do it.
I remind myself that when I run with my heart and not my ego, I always finish.
©2012 Ilene Evans
Thank you "Thnigns I Can't Say" for letting me pour my heart out about running!