Lies or Misundetstandings? Maybe it was just Hope
I am any runner, one of perhaps millions, but one who has been a runner for many years. One who has probably run more miles and more races than the average runner. We simply fell in love with the sport.
For many runners, it began when they realized the equation for comparing the number of calories taken in with those leaving was not producing values of relative equality. The calories “in” controlled the scales. By plugging running into the equation, balance was restored.
And so began the seduction. Fitness followed this new beginning and a wonderful new world of competition arose next. Running made communicating with one’s self easier, clearer, and a new world of friends arrived. Improvement came in both speed and distance. We all experienced the magic of the personal best. When we watched the other runners climb onto the awards stage to claim their age group awards, we saw how much younger, healthier and fitter they looked than the nonrunners we knew. It seemed that maybe there was a fountain of youth somewhere along the running trails we all covered.
It wasn’t hard to hear new promises, not just of a fountain of youth, but of protection against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, memory loss and more. Yes, we knew better, but the wind whispered while we ran that this offbeat activity offered a wall of protection against aging and disease; and, that we would always get faster and run further, and that one day instead of dying, we would simply go for a run and vanish into the sky.
And so we kept running. We ran more and faster miles. And then a strange thing happened. The body did not always hold up to the work load. As the years went by, we became increasingly vulnerable to injury. The pace of our training runs slowed and the number of miles were reduced. “Personal best” became a Latin phrase, indecipherable and lost in history. Half of the time on our runs was spent discussing injuries and “remember when?”
And then we began to hear about runners with cancer. There was ventricular tachycardia and all other types of arrhythmias, something that should never invade a runner’s body, and yet nearly claimed the lives of people we loved. There was the half marathon runner who dropped on the track a mere 100 meters from the finish after his heart failed him. Only a miracle kept him alive. A fit woman on a training run became unconscious – cardiac arrest. She survived to have a bypass only because of fast acting friends. Aren’t runners’ hearts protected? And, unbelievably, there was a plague of runners with high blood pressure; shouldn’t we, any runner, at least be immune from that? How can cancer so freely invade our lungs, pancreases, throats, breasts, testicles and brains? How it is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s can claim our mind’s ability to control the body?
After all, we are runners. But we look around and see all the friends who have fought so hard to overcome often surviving, but not always.
Weren’t we promised more than this by running? Were those promises just lies? Or was the message much more subtle? We are never “in charge.” As local music legend Del Suggs sings, “We cannot control the wind; we can only adjust our sails.” No, if we think we heard the wind tell us that running creates an impassable barrier for disease and aging, we misunderstood. No, running promised only to go with us, to help us fight the battles by giving us physical strength when monsters attack and mental strength when we need it most. It never guaranteed we would win.
So, we still go out there and run every day that we can. We still search for those special days when everything feels right. The days when our feet simply float or when the thoughts running through our heads, so clear and so in harmony, keep us at peace. Running remains our friend even as we keep running with our friends. We are better off for having done it and for continuing to do it as long as we can.