The Inglorious (But Indispensable) Act of Running

I honestly thought about skipping my 12-mile training run this week. This would be uncharacteristic for me. But training for my upcoming half-marathon has been overshadowed by a busy weekend coordinating the H2O Network’s Manmaker Conference. A Saturday morning run was simply out of the question, with a very full day of conference coordination. But by the end of Saturday, of course, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted. I was short on sleep. I missed out on opportunities to run with other friends. I just felt uninspired.

When my eyes popped open at five o’clock on Sunday morning, however, I honestly couldn’t think of anything better to do than go for a long run. I’d been waking up like that all week, with a jumble of thoughts about Manmaker logistics, and I could just tell that my heart and mind were sufficiently stirred that there was no hope of falling back asleep. So I got up, got dressed, unloaded the dishwasher, ate some breakfast, took out the trash and recycling… and then I was ready to run.

The sun was just starting to come up in front of me, as I ran east along the Portage Trail. It was a beautiful day to be out in the woods. My pace was moderate, but my thoughts and emotions were extreme. On one stretch of road, I’d be thinking about all the things that went well with Manmaker over the weekend; on the next stretch of road, I’d start thinking about all the things that went poorly with Manmaker over the weekend. It was weird to observe how quickly I swung from the verge of tears, to the verge of laughter, to the verge of rage.

My pace gradually quickened, as I emotionally processed my inner world. By the third mile, I was running sub-8:00 min./mile pace (medium-quick for me). It didn’t feel sustainable, but I didn’t care. It felt good to run hard.

Training for a half-marathon is weird. It’s not a very glorious event, even at its pinnacle. It’s only half of a marathon. Not the whole thing. The race I’m running next weekend will be with tens of thousands of other people, many of whom have far more compelling narratives for why they’re running: to beat cancer… to remember the loss of someone special… to lose weight… to celebrate a milestone birthday… to complete a marathon in all fifty states…

I’m just running because it’s what I do. It’s an activity that suits me.

I’m pretty sure I come across as anti-social, when I run. My fluorescent-colored synthetic-fabric clothing is not beautiful. My focused face can’t be all that beautiful, either, as I’m grinding out tough miles on the roads. Motorists regularly scowl at me when I slow them down. I will occasionally receive affirmation from connections on Strava (a social media platform for runners and cyclists), but most other friends are alienated and confused about why a person would do the things I do. It’s weird. But it’s what I do. Even though I can’t explain it to others or justify the anti-social elements of my running hobby, I can see that it’s an activity that suits me.

More than being unsightly, though, training for a half-marathon is invisible. Inglorious. At the same time, it’s indispensable, if one wants to succeed on race day.

Around the five-mile mark, just as I’m turning from the Portage Trail, north towards Lake Rockwell, my watch alerts me to the fact that it’s running low on battery. It feels like a metaphor. It all feels like a metaphor: my punctilious personality, power levels, perseverance, performance… Running twelve miles to train for running 13.1 miles feels remarkably similar to running a conference, which feels remarkably similar to running a household with three adolescents, which feels remarkably similar to running “the race” of life and faith. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve got enough power to make it to the end of the course that’s been plotted out for me. But running is what I do. I just keep running.

I’ve been fighting the good fight. I haven’t finished the race. But running these twelve miles — which both my legs and my watch ultimately prove capable of completion — help me to feel physically and mentally prepared for next week’s Cowtown Half-Marathon in Texas. There are lots of ups and downs along the way, but I can handle that. It’s what I do.

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