May is the month for milestones: graduations, baby showers, band concerts and baptisms currently dot my calendar. Additionally, there is the list of milestones as I go through the “lasts” of everything at my job. The last report cards, last talent show, and last class of eighth graders will be gone faster than I realize.
But with my head and calendar spinning, May is also the time I choose to focus on my re-birth. Five years ago last week, I left my house in a funk, just as a howling thunderstorm approached. As with most moments that end up changing our lives, I’m not quite sure why I started running down the street. I made it a short distance that evening; the pain in my chest and my legs was new and as fierce as the storm.
That night changed my life. As I wrote five years ago. “I keep running. The wind chases me now. I turn the corner and head for home. I’m not in it for the distance tonight. It is too new and too raw. But now I see. There is more to me than I already know. Some strange strength is gathering like the roiling clouds blowing in from the west.”
The power I found that night, when I landed on my porch breathless and dodging rain, was the beginning of this five-year journey. I had never exercised, and truly felt running was abhorrent. But in the past five years I have experienced hours of training, nasty shin splints, a few half marathons, and the hottest and longest run ever: 26.2 miles on an 86 degree day. I have dodged ice and heat but somehow, inexplicably, I cannot dodge my dream of running a half marathon in every state. Believe me, I have tried. But what happens to a dream deferred? It keeps popping back up. And so I run.
Five years later, and I’m pounding out a five-miler in the woods last night. (No small feat between my workday and the band concert.) Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately. So do I. I want to move and breathe and focus. I want to do the impossible. I want to be someone I didn’t know I could be.
The process has been slow. It is so much easier to change my body and my breath than to BELIEVE that I am a runner. Last night I passed a woman walking her dog on the trail. Since that part of the trail is a loop, I quickly passed her again. She smiled and said, “You’re moving fast.” Immediately I responded, “Not really.” I spent the next mile frustrated with myself. Why is it so hard for me to feel like a “real runner”? Why is my speed at all indicative of my heart and my purpose and the pride I should feel at re-inventing myself?
But the moments of beauty help. I think I smiled the whole five miles last night. Deer, chipmunks, blooming trees, red-headed woodpeckers, a killer soundtrack, the “good sore” of my muscles. My daughter helps too. She did in one word what I haven’t been able to do in five years. Brought home her school project where she had to use three words to describe me, and one of them was “running.” She’ll never realize how her observations have helped change the way I look at myself.
Running is such a great metaphor for life. I’m always running, though I’m not always sure where the path is headed. The work is harder than I think, but the pay-out is more powerful than I can imagine. It’s the same in my home and my classroom.
A friend reminded me of this quote by Christopher McDougall: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
I do hit the ground running each day, each moment. And in many ways, my running career really is this life-and-death for me. Fear, fatigue, doubt, the feeling of being unworthy: they are always chomping at my heels. Running gives me the power to keep the problems at bay, and to become more than I know. Some days I’m the lion, and some days I’m the gazelle. But each day and each mile brings me closer to the heart of who I want to become.