It's often said that "those who cannot do, teach." In the same vein, my past attitudes and behavior have validated the statement (perhaps not so often--or ever before--actually said) "those who cannot run, mock."
Yes, for my whole life (up until now) I have held the view that prolonged running is rather silly, and in most cases quite unnecessary. (I mean, what's the rush? Walking will get you there eventually, and is far friendlier to your joints.) In fact, back in college Allison (who also previously shared this view) and I devised a short list of valid reasons to run, albeit only in a short spurt. The list included reasons such as:
1. Running toward food when famished.
2. Avoiding a flesh encounter with a rabid animal.
3. Catching some form of transportation that is about to depart (i.e. running through the airport terminal to catch a flight, jogging down the street to catch a bus, etc.)
4. Fleeing the devil.
You get the idea. In general, I thought that those who choose to run for any other reason--and particularly those who claim to enjoy running--are, well, crazy.
I am sure that some of my aversion to running stems from the residual angst and shame associated with those physical fitness tests they make you do in gym class. You know--the ones that validate the athletic and publicly humiliate the out of shape. An A+ student in anything academic, when it came to the fitness tests I was doomed to failure. The flexed arm hang, the sit up test, the sit and reach--they were all bad, but at least they mercifully had a duration of just a few minutes, and not EVERYONE in the class was privy to how well (or how poorly) you did, only those on either side of you in line.
Running "the mile" was another story. The mile lasted as long as it took you to run (or in my case, intermittently walk and shuffle) it, and everyone in the class who'd already finished was there in the bleachers, watching and waiting for the slower kids to cross that finish line, red-faced and huffing for breath. From the place of my own insecurities I imagined what horrible thoughts they must be thinking of me, how pathetic and unattractive I must look to them.
Most of the years of gym class blend together, but I vividly remember finishing the mile one year at Monroe Middle School. Rather than sit idly by, talking amongst themselves while waiting for the last runners to straggle in and the period to end, some in the bleachers decided to cheer on those who were finishing several minutes behind the rest. Perhaps they cheered out of boredom, perhaps out of good will. I do not know their motivation, but I do remember what I felt as I crossed the finish line to the chorus of their shouts and whistles. There was no thrill of victory, no satisfaction in completion; only shame that the best I could do was so far below average, and a desire for the earth to split open and swallow me up, that I might escape their attention.
Well, thank the Lord, I have come a LONG way since middle school. Internally, I have allowed Christ to heal a lot of those insecurities. While I don't know that the one who penned the psalms necessarily had one's body concept or social confidence on his mind as he crafted his prose, I cling to the promises that those who are called by His name will not be put to shame. I have learned that my worth lies not in what I can do but in Whose image I am made. Though it's still a thorn in my flesh, by God's grace I have made my peace with perfectionism and let go of the need to excel at everything I attempt. Physically, I am probably at my healthiest weight and in the best cardiovascular and muscular condition ever. In the past couple years I have begun to take seriously my responsibility to be a steward of this vessel I've been given.
And so, it's against this background of bitter history and recent growth that my decision to train to run my first 5K this October comes both as a surprise and the most natural thing. With the help of a runner friend (one of the "crazies") I found a training schedule to follow, and I had my first appointment with the treadmill last Thursday. Last night, as I jogged along to the tunes on my shuffle, I looked around at those occupying the various machines at Bally's and came to the startling realization, "None of these people know that I'm not a runner." Which was followed shortly thereafter with, "Wait a second. Here I am, running. So for right this minute, maybe I am."
I'm hesitating to hit "publish post" right now, because while last Thursday I "put my stake in the ground," so to speak, and finally committed myself to training for and running the TU Homecoming 5K (and maybe even becoming a runner in the process), putting this out there lets others in on this goal. It opens me up to censure should I falter or fail or look ridiculous in the process. But then it also invites others to cheer me on from the bleachers, and this time I think I'm ready to accept their encouragement, no matter how long it takes me to finish the race.
So, here's to a season of training and running. Will you cheer me on?