Returned a few days ago from a lovely visit with family in Boston. As much as my family loves me – and I know they do – I also know that most of them are mystified by how much I run. I get the impression that I am perceived as crazy, masochistic or vain, or some combination of the above (my mother, for example, repeatedly tells me that running looks “abusive”).
Well, I am definitely a bit crazy and while not within the square definition of masochistic, to say that I am not easy on myself is an understatement of epic proportion. As for vain, a quick glimpse I caught of myself in a mirror in Target on Sunday quickly dispelled any concerns I may have in regards to excessive vanity. Truly, I would do well to become a little more vain, in this modern era of hidden cameras everywhere. I feel I am repeatedly at risk of an ambush by the “What Not to Wear” people and I still, on a regular basis, forget to brush my hair before leaving the house.
So, after getting the quizzical eye from people all weekend, I sat down and thought about why I have started, in my 40’s, to run so much. Beyond the basics – i.e. general good health, feeling that runner’s high, having a fit body – all of which could be achieved with a lot less mileage. As a lifelong runner, why do I feel it is so important now to run long distances?
My reason is actually really simple – because it makes me stronger. Not just physically stronger, but mentally stronger. Physically, I do enjoy knowing that I can do just about anything (within reason) I want to do, but it is the mental strength I keep gaining that motivates me to lace up every time. Each time I meet a goal, no matter how large or small, I strengthen my mind-body connection. I constantly test my mettle through training and meeting challenges, and each test strengthens that mettle, bit by bit.
At 43, I realize I need to be stronger – mentally, emotionally – than ever before. I need to experience that “I can do anything” feeling I get while running and carry it with me throughout the days as much as possible. “Serious” issues that faced me and my loved ones when I was younger were, in retrospect, not so serious at all. I was a lucky kid and a luckier young adult. Now I’ve gone through an extended period where real crises have affected me and my loved ones. I’ve suffered grief and have had to find the strength to heal. I’ve experienced worry beyond what I previously could have imagined and have had to find a way to work with it and through it. I’ve matured from the kid who looked to others for help to the adult that others look to for support. I want to be that person for myself and for my loved ones, and to be that person, I need to be strong, in every sense of the word. I need strong shoulders for others to cry on, strong arms for hugging and a strong constitution for hearing things one hopes never to hear. Most importantly, I need a strong heart and a strong spirit for processing it all, keeping the faith, and providing support and love where needed.
For me, the stronger I feel on the outside, the stronger I feel on the inside. And these days, that’s where I need it the most.