I am not by nature a runner. Nor, am I by design, a distance runner. My body was built for brief, short bursts of speed. As I have gotten older the bursts of speed have gotten shorter and slower. The same can be said of my distance running. I no longer judge the success of my distance runs by the clock but by the simple joy of having finished the race and feeling as though I can reasonably entertain the idea of doing another.
The toughest part of every race for me, no matter the distance, is its first mile.
It is that first mile where every reason I can muster for ending the race comes flying at me faster than my feet meet the ground.
I have found countless metaphors about running and life. I don’t know that any of the running quotes have inspired me much to be a better, faster or longer runner. It’s probably the realist in me that understands that I should spend less time finding a way to be inspired by someone else’s words to complete the race and simply finish the race.
Or, perhaps it’s the cynic in me. I will get back to myself on that.
Today marks 52 days before my 52nd birthday. It’s not a milestone birthday in the sense that it marks something fundamentally different or important about my life. It will reflect another trip around the sun and that in and of itself is a pretty remarkable achievement.
But, it does cause me to reflect on the first mile of every race I have run.
If my life path had been determined by the process that goes on in my mind during the first mile of each race I have run I would have given up long ago.
Running is a choice. Life is, too.
In running you can simply stop. You can give up. You can choose multiple options during that first mile.
You can choose to get through the aches and the pains and the self-doubt and the simple realization that nobody is making you do this except yourself.
For most of us, running does not come naturally. It is work. It is grueling. It can seem pointless.
Life can be the same way.
Being born is not an immediate indication that your life is going to be a success. It still requires work. It will be grueling. There are days when it can seem pointless.
I know that I have found those times when I simply wonder why I bother. In my darkest moments I have never entertained ending the race of life. But, I have, more times than I care to admit, found myself wanting to quit making the effort to get to the finish line.
It takes work to keep running that first mile. But I have come to learn that endless possibilities exist if I don’t quit.
I might find myself, as I did yesterday, running a half-marathon at the Minnesota Get in Gear, pleased with my finishing time. At the race’s beginning I had plenty of self-doubt. I hadn’t trained. The weather was cold. I was going to be out there for two hours, running 13 miles, for no other reason than I had decided to do so.
When the first mile became history I began to feel the pattern of my run emerge. The pace was steady, my breathing was controlled and my mind forgot that minutes earlier an ache in my knee and burning in my hamstring had consumed my focus.
Now, I began to explore my options. Could I finish this race in under two hours? Did I want to? What was required for me to be able to do so? Would it be better for me to maintain my pace as practice for my upcoming Fargo Marathon? Should I stop for water or energy drink or should I just continue on past the stop? Did I need to listen to music or should I wait until later in the race where I might need it as an energy booster?
Today, 52 days before my 52nd birthday, I look around at my life and look forward to exploring its options.
One of those options is to call my time on Facebook complete on my 52nd birthday. Another is to begin limiting the time I spend on social media, tied to my email, harnessed to my smart phone. I have others, as well. I want to try more marathons. Pedal more bike races. Climb some mountains. Learn a musical instrument. Be in Community Theater. Catch a Muskie. Travel to Europe with my family.
Every single run and every single race begins with that first mile. Every single run and every single race and its first mile has reminded me about who I am, what I am, and what I am capable of doing and being.
Every single day of my life begins with that first mile.
Every single day I have tried to make the choice to run past that first mile.
It has made 51 trips around the sun a race I choose to continue to finish.