I am a runner and a distance junkie. Make no mistake, I was never a lithe cross-country runner. I am a 35 year old formerly overweight, ex-pack-a-day smoker, now part-time pediatrician with two young children and a fickle knee who has coerced my body into submission. Since I started running 12 years ago, I have run six half-marathons; four (soon to be five) marathons, including Boston; and completed my first half-Ironman in October.
I am frequently asked why I run – meaning why do I run long distances? There are the obvious answers about health and fitness, and then the deeper answer about being an over-achieving oldest child. But the real answer is that I believe that running, and indeed the ability to move under one’s own power, is a gift.
It is the gift of running out of Sabino Canyon with the sun setting in the west and a full moon rising in the east. The gift of exploring neighborhoods in Tucson and other cities that I would have missed in a car. The gift of dinnertime smells from homes on my route. The gift of a double rainbow in the mountains at the end of a long evening run. The gift of friendships forged and strengthened over the miles. The gift of an outlet at the end of a long day or week. The gift of a healthy lifestyle that I can model for my children and patients. The gift of spending time with the students in my running program. The gift of racing surrounded by people who also love to run. The gift of good food and music at the end of a race. The gift of my son running the last tenth of a mile and crossing the finish line with me. The gift of a sense of strength and accomplishment at the end of a hard run. The gift of an extra handful of M&Ms after dinner. The gift of crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with my sister, who is back to running after being hit by a car.
But I have come to realize that the biggest gift is that of good health. Two and a half years ago, my mother was almost crippled by her alcoholism and was in rehab for 6 months. Today she is doing great but at that point, holding my son’s hand was enough to pull her off balance. I watched my grandmother slowly deteriorate and become bedridden from her Parkinson’s disease. My sister and one of my best friends have both been hit by cars while running and spent several painful months in physical therapy to recover their strength and mobility. Any time I think I am having a bad run, I think of these people who have endured so much more and I realize how incredibly fortunate I am. This thought gives me the energy and inspiration to finish my run.
So to those who ask why I run, the answer is because I can.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.