Last year I remember watching the news on the day of the Boston Marathon in horror and disbelief.
A lot has happened in a little over a year for the world as a whole, and for me personally as well.
There has been a media buzz around the famous bandit runners in the 2014 Boston marathon who copied a girl’s bib she posted on Instagram and used it to run in the race and even accept medals. The response from the general public has ranged from strong defense of the “harmless” act to outrage and disgust, especially given the context of this year’s emotional race.
One of my friends created a facebook group “Runners Support Group” and started a conversation among other runners asking what their opinions were on the matter. As expected, people’s opinions were varied, but one girls comment inspired my whole post today!
She was shaming us for even talking about something so frivolous when there are much more important issues the world faces today like harsher punishments for rape and child abuse. “Move on to something more important people” she said. I found her comment to be reeking with unearned self-righteousness. I mean…its “Runners Support Group” if you want to discuss harsher punishments for the atrocities in the world, start your own facebook page and leave ours alone! Why the need to take time out of her presumably much more important life, filled with constant servitude to shame us all for talking about such a trivial topic?
Those first thoughts aside (and I couldn’t help myself but ask her why she felt the need to comment), it got me thinking about why it hit such a nerve with me. I guess because it really bothers me when people think running isn’t important? Then I thought more about it and remembered a time not too long ago when I had those same thoughts and feelings…and not coincidentally, running of all things is what snapped me back into reality.
So why is running important? Isn’t it just another narcissistic way to worship yourself by attaining an ideal physique and showing off for everyone?
It may appear that way to those that do not run, never have run, or even to some runners (or maybe unfortunately they DO know someone who runs and it has left them with this impression about ALL runners). There was even an article recently in the New York Times(?) about why runners feel the need to show off and put bumper stickers on their car and the likes.
Through my 17 years as a runner, I have definitely seen much more of the good, than the bad.
Running gives so much more than it takes. The obvious health benefits most people are aware of. Running burns lots of calories, it improves your cardiovascular system, helps you retain more muscle as you age thus slowing the decrease in metabolism that leads to creeping weight gain over the years. Then there’s also this: Running changes lives.
Some people may think about the man who is obese and has a multitude of health problems and starts running and loses all this extra weight and ends up happier and healthier. Yes, that absolutely happens and it is a good example of why running is important, but that is just one example.
What you don’t think about as often is the victim of domestic abuse, who finally escapes with her children from the evil hands of her husband and still feels powerless and afraid. There are running groups that help these women get shoes and running clothes and coach them and see the changes that they make with every step. With each mile they gain a little bit of confidence. They feel a little more empowered and are eventually able to take their lives back and end up coaching other women to do the same. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Or the inner city kid who has been taking care of himself since he was old enough to remember. He’s scoured the dumpsters for food when he’s been hungry. He has the option to join into the street life, but someone provides him with shoes and develops his talent and believes in him. He is able to go to college and get out of that lifestyle and then give back to other kids like him.
Our how about our culture which constantly teaches young girls that anorexic models with no muscle or body fat is the idea? Then you have a program like Girls on the Run that teaches them to love their bodies and nourish them instead.
I was tearing up reading an article in Runner’s World about little people with dwarfism and how two of them were going to be the first to cross the finish line at the 2013 Boston Marathon. All the struggles they went through to get there, only to not be able to cross that finish line because a couple of losers decided to commit murder.
There’s the One Run Fund that was created in the aftermath of such a tragedy that ended up providing prosthetics for those that lost limbs (along with so much more) on that fateful day so that these people could walk and run again and take back some of what was lost.
There are so many numerous charities that are supported through races. Too many other examples of how running changes people’s lives in a good way to list them all. So I’ll talk now about what it has done for me!
Last summer before my daughter was 6 months old, a co-worker and friend who was also a father to three children under the age of two passed away suddenly. He was a good person. I battled with so many questions. Why was he taken away from his family when there are child abusers out there allowed to live? Why was I here and not him? It could have been me, it could have been anyone.
Suddenly the things I had been struggling with internally (lack of sleep, my running suffering, trying to balance work and being a first time mom and keeping myself healthy) seemed to be of little importance. I struggled with it for a while. I did continue to run during this time but I dropped my mileage considerably and told myself I was only doing it for the health benefits at that point.
Running actually snapped me out of this thought process. I was having a hard time dealing with my emotions over the whole thing. I had a lot of anger, a lot of fear (because nothing was certain) and I was carrying around this overwhelming sense of guilt. I felt like because I was still here, I had to appreciate every. Single. Minute. If I felt myself starting to complain about something mundane I immediately felt guilty for it and felt like I could never get mad at my husband, especially over trivial things and as a result I was totally bottling everything up and it was making me crazy inside. I finally went for this run where everything was quiet and I was finally able to feel my own emotions and deal with them instead of pushing them away as unimportant. I came back and felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I can’t say it fixed everything…I still struggled for a while, and to be honest…I still do sometimes. But the more I ran and allowed myself to realize it IS important and WHY its important, the better I was able to deal with the really tough stuff in life.
Running was there for me a few years ago when I almost lost my dad to a heart attack. I remember those few days when we were taking it all one day at a time because he certainly was not out of the woods yet. I remember going through the motions, talking matter of factly with doctors, helping take care of my mom and feeling numb through a lot of it. When I ran and it was just me and the streets I couldn’t hide from my feelings. In this age of thousands of tv channels and computers and smartphones and all these other distractions that allow us to stay numb, running and being alone with yourself and your thoughts is more important than ever.
I remember doing a 10 mile race that Sunday (My dad had a major heart attack in the “widow maker” on Saturday) and thinking “Why am I even here? I should be with my dad, or I should be helping my mom…or, or…” But I had told myself that I was going to win an award and bring it to my dad and tell him that I ran it for him and that I wanted him to BE THERE at my next race. I ran better that day than I had run in years. I remember ticking off the miles, pushing through the pain, thinking about my dad and allowing the pain throughout my body because it felt good to FEEL! After I crossed the finish line my husband was there and I remember as soon as I saw him I ran over to him and just started weeping in his arms. The run had brought out all the emotion that I was scared to face.
I’ve seen the changes in people that have become runners. They generally become healthier, happier and find other ways to live a better lifestyle. Its not for everyone. I get that. For those that have found it and love it, it is unbelievably important.
If you ever have the opportunity to watch a race, and see the people that bring up the rear, I suggest you do so. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5K, half marathon, marathon, whatever distance. You will see something amazing. You will see people that you would never pick out as a runner pushing themselves, pain on their faces to that finish line and realize how its so much more than crossing a spray painted line in the road. You will see cancer survivors that have taken their lives back and see the people supporting them with tears in their eyes because there was a very dark time in the past when they never thought this day would be possible. You will see fathers and mothers and children and people missing limbs or running with a huge limp. For me, its more inspiring to watch these people running a race than the elites who are paid to show up.
Our society seems to have a tech obsession where we are always connected, yet I keep reading we are more isolated than ever. Not the runners! I see couples out to dinner, both of them glued into their smart phones and find more often than not its easier for me to text someone or send an email than pick up the phone and call them. When you’re running with people you are forced into conversation. Maybe that’s some of the reason why some of my running friends also end up becoming some of my best friends. We get to know each other below the surface of facebook statuses and Instagram photos and talk about the things no one else sees.
Because of the way running unites, I’ve become friends with people that otherwise I never would have known, or at least not in the way I do today. I’ve run with people with completely different political views than my own, people with completely different types of jobs, people with much more money than me, people with less money than me, people who are educated and uneducated, people who are slower than me, people who are faster than me, people who inspire me and people that I inspire, it doesn’t matter! We have running in common if nothing else! And believe me, to keep a conversation going with someone you just met for over an hour takes a deep level of human interaction and sometimes more compassion than we’re ever forced to deal with in our normal daily lives.
Frank Shorter just recently opened up about the child abuse he endured at the hands of his father and how he coped with it through running. He said he felt like he finally needed to speak, after all these years of silence in case it helped one kid who was going through the same thing.
Most of the runners I know are kind, happy, compassionate people that find true joy in helping others. I think we need much MORE of people like this in the world!
So there you have it. That is the long version of why running is so important. I could make it even longer if I really wanted to, but I think most people will get the point. Keep running friends, and lifting up those who run and those who don’t around you. I know that I’ve done a lot more good for humanity through running than I ever could have done on my own!
And since running a race has become such a great way to raise money for great causes…I’ve been researching hosting a virtual run for a friend that I ran with in high school. Her daughter that was born about 6 months after my daughter was recently diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). Right now, there is no cure. There are plenty of hopeful clinical trials going on and my friend needs help to pursue these things for her beautiful baby girl. As another mother, I know there is NOTHING a mother wouldn’t do for her children. If there is hope out there, we’re going to go after it!
I’ve been collecting some info on how to get started in this. If anyone has any experience they could share with me it would be much appreciated. I’m thinking maybe a facebook page is the best way to start. Trying to figure out how to handle people paying. Leave a comment if you have some info!