Sunday, October 16, 2016

Love Letter to Running

I'm starting to think my love for Bruce Springsteen has rooted a desire to leave a common legacy. My friend Kathy and I emphatically believe the Boss will be forever known for his live performance and prolific song writing. It's hard to believe that Springsteen at 67, is still on tour and performing in shows that exceed four hours! Fans are often amazed at just how many songs he has written and never recorded, but I am not. In the seven years I have kept this blog, I have published over 500 entries. However, sitting in my draft file, are 150 that await their completion. Though it's not rock 'n' roll and my students are a far cry from adoring fans, when I'm teaching I often feel as though I've undertaken some sort of live performance. And though I don't write songs, I write letters...a lot of them. I have sent people articles and CDs that I have long since forgotten about and I am humbled by what I have received in return. Some say letter writing is a lost art, but I respectfully disagree. Precisely because it's an art, it takes new and different forms and iterations. This art is manifested well beyond Christmas cards, fan mail and thank you notes...and for what it's worth, I write all of them.
without a doubt, this was my favorite place to run...Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA
One letter that has been sitting in my draft file for too long is this one. I've waffled back and forth about whether I want to publicly share this letter—not to a person, but to a sport...and that sport is running. I am not the first to write this type of letter—Kobe and Michael Jordan each had theirs to basketball. I certainly won't be the last. However, I like the legacy that it reveals; it's one about the gift and the power of running—an important part of my role as a teacher...and as a writer. Enjoy.

Dear Running,
Six years ago, I realized I would probably have to say goodbye to you. As someone who ran "eight days a week," I never thought I would have to....but not all runners feel that way. I realize now how many runners sense that one day their knees will buckle or their back will break, demanding a farewell to arms—or in this case legs and running.

I have to admit, you had me from hello. Just kidding—I couldn't resist. Maybe it's a good thing that only a certain generation of us know how bad, yet good anything from the movie "Jerry Maguire" is. But running, I loved you from the start. Even though you are demanding and sometimes cruel, you gave me freedom. You continued to challenge and humble me. You could be simultaneously relaxing and strenuous. I looked forward to my time with you and yet, after a given amount of time together, I knew when to walk...when to push stop on my watch...and when to say "I'll see you tomorrow."
after my very favorite road race— the Spring Lake 5—with one of my favorite people
When I was diagnosed with ARVD in 2010, I became aware that our relationship would forever change. I knew that spending time with you was dangerous, but to quit entirely seemed like an impossibility. On December 12, 2015, that once scary thought came to be something I was able and did accept.

I see God's grace at work in other people's lives far more often than I do in my own. I suppose that's not uncommon, but my relationship with you was one of the greatest graces. Grace is, after all, a gift. A free one. Running was no different. The fact that you cost nothing is one of the things I love about you. Chris McDougall the author of Born to Run verified this truth in helping people to understand that not even shoes are necessary!

I could spend as much or as little time as I wanted with you. I loved you for your accessibility: lace up my shoes and head out the door. I have run through great American cities and local trails. All 10 miles of Broad Street in Philadelphia, the National Mall in Washington DC, from one end of the Golden Gate Bridge to the other and back, Forest Park in St. Louis and the Kitty Hawk trail in Dallas, were places I got to know, revere and study because of you. 
Ran it in the blistering heat/humidity, the warm nights, the hard rain and snow. Our nation's capital
It means a great deal that you are a reason why some of my dearest friendships were born. From CYO track to the varsity distance crew in high school, running affords a person with privileged conversations. They are born out of a cadence—one that looks out in the distance instead of at one another, while pursuing a common goal, a common destination.

Coaching cross country for 12 years gave me the chance to share you with young people. My philosophy was a simple one: to develop a life-long relationship with you. As a teacher and a coach, I know how elusive success can be. In those years of coaching, yes, we won league and sectional championships, but getting young women to love you too was and will always be my greatest achievement. Though I find a terrible irony in my own coaching philosophy—I can't run myself—were I to still coach cross country (and I could—it would just be very different) I wouldn't change a thing. That's success.

with a special runner....who went on to run in college. #love
I realize how much I miss you only in glimpses and shadows. Just this morning, I saw two women come to a stop from their run. They exchanged a few words, hugged and parted ways. Their skin and smiles glowed in a way that a runner knows...because it's a feeling. The runner's high.

I've nailed down the times I miss you and how I miss you
  1. the early morning run
  2. on a rainy day--just after the rain has subsided
  3. as a way to get to know American cities
  4. by the water
  5. the climb
  6. the runs I will never take...not where...but with who.
God's grace has enabled me to let go of a lot of things in my life; I'm still working on others. Running, however, isn't one of them. I had an additional five years with you after my diagnosis. I was able to let go gradually and freely. Thank you.

You shaped me in ways that are beyond my comprehension and I remain, even now, forever grateful. When people ask me if I still run, there's but the smallest chord of sadness but honestly, I can look them in the eye and say "it was a great ride." Those words and this entire reality remind me that though we are broken, we can remain whole. That's a sure sign of God's grace....a revelation from a great sport that spawned many minutes and miles. 
A spiritual place—the start line

Oh, and by the way, there's someone else now...a four letter word. Golf. Golf—you cost a lot of time and money. You are supremely high maintenance. You can ruin my day, sometimes my week...and yet, you've brought me to beautiful places and to new, interesting and inspiring people.  You may get your own due time.

Photo Credits
Crissy FieldDC National Mall

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