Why I Run
Time will not remain
It’s 7:00 am on a Saturday. The dew on the grass is fresh and crisp. A bit of frost clings to the earth. The sun is starting to peek through the trees, but not quite ready to deliver its warmth and energy. Pretty much a run-of-the-mill morning in early November.
The air has a bite to it — I’ll say invigorating, or motivating. “It’s not that cold out,” I tell myself. But I’m lying. Hopefully, it’s temporary. I put my top layer back in my car begrudgingly, hoping I won’t regret it later.
I finish tying my shoes and head out into the Deer Grove Forest Preserve, ready to begin my several hour trek over 16ish miles of undulating trails and paths. My goal for today is simple: finish the run. I’m not bound by time, pace, or distance. I might walk for a bit, I’ll probably have a snack at some point, and I’ll definitely make use of the campground facilities thanks to the coffee I drank in the car.
The sun slowly makes its way towards the top of the sky. My first couple of miles are tough — was I always this stiff? This tight? I don’t remember this being the case.
I remember the days years ago when I would line up for a half marathon with thousands of others, butterflies in full effect, ready to charge out of the gate. There was no warm-up, no priming my body for the race to come. Just one thought, one goal in mind: 1 hour 30 minutes. Anything less was unacceptable.
I was fixated by time.
My training blocks were too intense, my recovery too limited. My running mirrored my lifestyle — too rash, too fast, lacking mindfulness. Only thinking about time. Needless to say, when I invariably ran myself into the ground, laden with injury, I foolishly aimed my vitriol at running. I was angry. I had given running so much, why was it taking so much from me? Was I not worthy of its rewards, of its accolades, its respect?
The sun is higher in the sky now. I’m starting to find my rhythm. My feet have loosened up. Fall is in full effect, the ground soft and damp, riddled with fallen leaves. The trail crunches underfoot.
I began to realize that my anger was not with running, but with myself. I was living without purposeful intent. I was not being mindful of my body, mind or soul. I was working for the weekend at a job I didn’t like, living in an apartment I didn’t like, spending time with people who brought out the worst in me. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was drinking too much. I thought running (and having) a fast time was most important. Turns out, time was moving so fast I couldn’t keep up. What I was striving towards was actually bringing me down, not pushing me forward.
I plod along on this chilly November morning. I’m finally warmed up, happy I ditched my top layer before I started. I resist the urge to turn the music up, to increase my leg turnover, to keep running faster and faster. This is tough for me. The fire is a strong nemesis. I literally hold up my hand with the “stop” motion so it physically registers.
I munch on a couple Gatorade chewables every so often. They’re sweet and satisfying without being too heavy. Even though I’m not visibly sweating, I’m still drinking a bit of water every 15 minutes or so. Apparently you can still become dehydrated in the cold because science or something.
I finally said to myself, what should I do? How do I flip my notion of time on its head? How do I slow down rather than speed up? How do I keep time from slipping away — moving faster and faster until one day I wake up, old and bitter, with the same bad habits and apathetic outlook on life?
It started with running.
I made an effort to run more intelligently. Not every run had to be an all-out dog fight. Recovery runs and pre-race shakeout runs had just as much of a purpose as a hard-fought tempo run or interval session.
I began to run with meaningful intent — after a frustrating day at work, an easy 4-miler can be better than any beer. Making big life decisions became easier after I would sort them out during a long slow run.
I started taking my headphones out more and more. Turns out that running without heavy metal or EDM music pounding in my ears helps me stay calm and collected, sticking to my desired pace and cadence. This would also lead me to discovering the awesomeness that is the podcast — I regularly listen to podcasts on runs now.
Running used to speed me up, now it helps me slow down.
I’m about halfway through my run now, and I’m on autopilot. The crisp November air isn’t so sharp anymore. My legs seem to glide over the terrain with my 180 steps per minute cadence keeping me light as a feather. My attention darts from one part of the trail to the other, watching out for perilous footfalls, gaps in the terrain, or large branches that have fallen across the path. With each passing step I feel more and more grounded to the earth.
My mind wanders, but with a calm intensity. I think about work, family, friends, relationships, writing ideas, everything. All processed and sorted at 3x speed. I’m acutely aware of where I am and what I am doing at this very moment.
The music coursing through my headphones amplifies my emotional state — I am making conceptual and emotional connections left and right that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Sometimes I find myself on the verge of tears.
My grandmother died June 28th. Friday morning. A rather ordinary day, but the culmination of an extraordinary life. She was, simply, an exceptional human being. I think about her here in the forest. I’m not sure what happens after we die but here and now, amongst the whispering trees, I feel her presence and encouragement more than ever.
This, right here, is why I run. All the planning, the stretching, the active recovery, the cross-training, the eating, the sleeping, all of it, is so I can experience this state of being a couple of hours per week.
I’m still fixated by time — but in a much different way. I’m fixated by maximizing my time, not lowering it for a new PR.
Beyond running, maximizing my time is starting to take its place as a core tenet in my life. I’ve started doing the things I want to do, with the people I want to do them with. I’ve started saying no more. I’ve started standing up for myself and my ideas more strongly with more conviction. I’ve started saying no to relationships that don’t add any value to my life. To borrow an idea from author Mark Manson, I’m choosing the f***s I give. Because time is NOT on my side. Time can only be managed, it can’t be found. Because there is one simple, undeniable fact about time:
Time will not remain.
The last hour of my run is a bit more difficult than I would have liked. The seamless, effortless second hour has been replaced with discomfort and strain due to a nagging cramp in my left calf muscle. Probably from not taking in enough water the night before. I’ve slowed down a bit to compensate and now I’m getting cold again. But I persevere. The sun is out, the wind is at my back, how could I not?
I see the familiar road that signifies the end of the 5.5-mile loop. Being my third loop with a bum left calf, this is a welcome sight indeed. I trudge up the road, more walking than running at this point, until I see the crossing into the parking lot. I get to the car and mutter a fairly audible sigh of relief. I put my top layer back on, get the foam roller out of the trunk and immediately start rolling out my calf right there in the lot. After about five minutes of this, I feel much better and I go for a ten-minute walk to complete my cool down. I’ll stretch when I get home in the warmth and comfort of my living room.
All this trouble for maybe an hour or two of the cumulative experience that is running? Worth it.
Time will not remain
Time is fleeting. Time is non-renewable. Time seems to only pick up speed as life rolls on. Like anything else, it’s a consumable resource. And while resources have tremendous value, they also have limits and constraints. They must be conserved and used effectively to their maximum potential.
It’s essential to be aware and purposeful of how we spend our time.
Folks have asked me many times why I run. The answer, for me, is simple: I love it. It makes me a better person. It instills values like discipline, hard work, and commitment. It reminds me of what’s good and pure in this world.
It is, in my mind, a good use of time.
I am a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and owner of Spotter Fitness, LLC. My NASM certificate ID is 1180267832. Look up my credentials here.