Saturday, October 10, 2009

Running Into Myself

John "The Penguin" Bingham describes allowing running to change him into the person he wants to be, one step at a time. He calls this "running into myself".

I have seen this in my own life over the last 16 months since I started running in June 2008. My running shoes are now somewhat sacred to me, and I wear them only for running -- nothing else. When I lace them on, and head out the door, each kick-off is a step behind me and each new foot-plant is a new me, becoming. I've lost over 50 lbs, and my resting heart rate has gone from the high 70s to the mid- to high-40s. I just feel better. But more than that I feel more...


I have to acknowledge that a part of it is the weight loss. When I look at my picture from 7th grade, I see a normal-weight kid who is happy and healthy and looking forward to life ahead. My 8th grade school picture is a photo of a pudgy kid*. I've spent most of my life looking into the mirror at the man who grew up from that pudgy, patently nonathletic, insecure kid from 8th grade. Now when I look into the mirror I see the man who grew up from the 7th grade kid.

Another nod to The Penguin: I'm an "adult onset athlete" and it feels good to be healthy. A friend (who will remain un-named -- but I've known him since 7th grade and looked up to him as an athletic person) recently said something like "I hope when I'm your age I'm that healthy. Wait...I am your age!"

That felt good, but wasn't as meaningful as it would have been 2 years ago. The 8th-grade pudgy kid in me would have given his left arm to hear someone say that. The 7th-grader in me today, though -- not so insecure -- laughed and acknowledged it, but moved on...and THAT felt good. Does that make sense?

So running has given me the benefit of becoming more the person I want to be. But insecurities and faults and flaws still live deep in me. Running is only one way to change me. There are others. Some of these can be pretty scary, but becoming a runner has given me the confidence to face new challenges more hopefully.

One other way to become more myself is to spend time alone in a small space -- where every time I turn around I (quite literally) keep "running into" my "self".

It was for this express purpose I recently went to a place in the Silver Falls area called CRC. I stayed in a tiny A-frame building called the "Prayer Hut".I took my bible and my journal and a couple books that have been helpful recently in digging into the depths of my self -- maybe that sounds narcissistic, but here's a story:

When I was a kid sometimes my dad would drive me places. I'd turn on the radio and he would turn it off. I'd turn it back on and he'd turn it back off. This would repeat a few times and finally he'd tell me to leave it off and then say something like:
"What's the matter?
Are you afraid of your own thoughts?"
And, well...I guess yeah I was, and still am sometimes. I look in the mirror and while the body is that of the grown-up 7th-grader still sometimes in the corner of my eye I see the lost-ness of the 8th-grader peering through and I wonder what it is like to be whole. Mark twain once said
"The worst kind of loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself"
So once in awhile I think it is important for me to turn off my cell phone, leave my laptop at home, and just get away from it all to be alone And. Just.
With my self.

So recently I spent 3-4 days reading and writing in my journal and praying and really connecting with God on a deep deep level.
I sensed
The Maker of the Universe
look at me and smile
in simple unbridled
and fraternal
and friendly
and a sense of
and positive destiny
And you know what I re-learned? Far more than any person's complimentary remark, that love of God burning deep in my heart -- this is what makes my day.

On a bad day this is what lets me know everything will be OK. And this is what, on a good day, makes everything seem brighter and clearer and more alive.

Now I'm home again and re-plugged in. Life and work and community all go on and challenges and stresses have a way of rebuilding themselves. I can't live as a hermit, and so I run. When I run, I sometimes catch a glimpse of that love in my heart.

Some days running is just habit. Other days it is an exercise in self-denial. But on other days, it's like Eric Liddell says in Chariots of Fire: "When I run I sense God's pleasure".

To celebrate one year of running, in June 2008 I ran a half-marathon. It was preceded by 14 weeks of training, which was brutal but fulfilling -- and made the race itself less brutal and more fulfilling -- exhilarating, even. My goal is to run the Portland Marathon in October 2010. After that maybe someday I'll run a longer distance. It is symbolic of my race through life. Life is not a sprint. Things, like becoming myself, take time -- likely, the whole rest of my life.

So I run. As a Nike ad puts it, I run not because I am in a hurry, or because someone is chasing me.

I run just because.

I'm running a half-marathon in mid-January and my 14 weeks of training begins this Monday. I can't wait to get out on the roads at 5:30am, before the sunrise. Just God, and me, and my shoes hitting the pavement;

pickin' 'em up & puttin' 'em down.

Running into myself.~ Keith

* Sometimes I wonder "What happened to me between 7th and 8th grade?" I have some answers on that one, but that's another story, and really just for me and my journal. But here is a song that struck me today, and the overall message is right in line with how I feel inside when I wonder that wonder, and also right in line with why I run:

The Love That you Give
by Jeff Searles

These days I find myself
Wanting something that I lost
A long long time ago
Ghost of a memory that haunts me
The way that it was
A long long time ago

The Love that You give
Is the Love that I need
The Love that You give
Is the Love that I need

Lately I feel so empty
Trying so hard to fill up
Something inside of me
But I always miss the mark
And end up breaking apart
Something inside of me

And the Love that You give
Is the Love that I need
The Love that You give
Is the Love that I need
The Love that You give
Is the Love that I need

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