For some reason today I was trying to remember my earliest memory of running. I don’t mean running while playing freeze tag or Ghost in the Graveyard when I was six, but running when I actually “went out for a run.” I think my first “real” run was when I was 13. My dad would get up and run in the early mornings a few times per week, and one day I went with him. I can’t remember how far it was or what we talked about, but I can remember that I couldn’t believe anyone could just go out and run for miles at a time and not stop or throw up.
This got me to thinking about how runners get their start. It seems like there are four camps:
#1 - Those who ran track and/or cross country in high school and college and never stopped. These tend to be the ones who know a lot about form, pacing, from years of being coached and from years of racing.
#2 - Those who started running during college or just after as a way to manage their weight, get regular about exercising, socialize or simply try their first long distance race. Then they got hooked.
#3 - Those who got married, had kids, maybe got fat, were searching for their identity, wanted to get into shape, wanted focus (could be all or one of the above), and then decided to start running in their late thirties to fifties.
#4: Those who started running because they needed healing from trauma, loss or illness.
Today #4 really resonated with me. I read a detailed story about Fauja Singh. If you’ve ever heard of him or seen his picture, you have not quickly forgotten him.
Fauja Singh is best known for being the oldest person to ever run a marathon. At the age of 100, he ran 26.2 miles at the 2011 Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 8 hours and 25 minutes. As always, there is a story behind the persona that we see in pictures and interviews. I guarantee you there is a lot about Singh that would surprise you.
- He ran his first marathon at 89 years of age
- He could not walk steadily until he was almost ten years old due to weakness in his legs
- He showed up for his first marathon training session in a three piece suit (my favorite bit of trivia)
- He trained for only 10 weeks for his first marathon (2000 London Marathon. He ran a 6:54)
So, what brought Singh to running at such an old age? Intense and insurmountable grief. In 1994 (at the age of 83) and while living in India, Singh watched his son be decapitated in a freak accident. A piece of sheet metal flew off of a building and hit his son, killing him immediately.
Running became Singh’s salvation, his distraction. “When running, Fauja realized he thought only of his next step.” He reports feeling connected to God as his anger subsided and his grief lessened.
I think no matter how we got our start, there is a reason we haven’t stopped. We are all looking for that escape into a life a bit outside of our cubicle or office walls, our homes, our relationships, our relentless negative thoughts – a way to boost ourselves mentally, a way to make our bodies stronger, a way to feel a sense of accomplishment we may not feel anywhere else in our lives.
We don’t have to experience the level of trauma that Singh did to feel the relief that running can bring. Some us start our runs with our demons, our anger, our sadness, our heavy thoughts, our insecurities bearing down on us like a hundred pound weight. With each step, with each mile, the burden gets lifted slightly. By the end of our run, the lightness takes hold and we find ourselves rejuvenated, relieved, new.
No matter how we got started running, I think this is why most of us have not stopped.
What motivated you to start running? I started because I needed a goal outside of parenting and a part time job. I had just turned 40 and had two young kids. I wanted something of my own. I found that running gave me back my confidence and made me feel alive.
What’s kept you running? I love how it lifts my spirits, how accomplished I feel afterwards. I love how strong I feel when I run. It’s hard for me to get this same “high” anywhere else.