Who Wants To Be A Runner?

It happens now and then. The fact that I run marathons comes up in casual conversation. Someone in the room, upon learning the distance involved, exclaims “I’d love to be a runner, but I couldn’t do one mile. Never mind twenty-six.” (It’s actually 26.2 by the way.)

Here’s a secret: When I started a few years ago, my goal was to go a quarter mile without walking. I didn’t make it.

In time, however, things changed. The cardio and muscular systems slowly adapted. I gained a bit of knowledge and started hanging out with a bunch of marathoners. I hired a coach. Eventually, covering a fair amount of ground during a workout was routine.

Therein lies the secret to becoming a distance runner. Start small. Be consistent. Keep challenging yourself. Latch on to a mentor or two. One day you’ll look back and realize that you’ve made accomplishments which you never thought possible.

(The principle applies in other areas of life as well. Growing a career; mastering a skill; building wealth. But those are topics for a different venue.)

Only one ingredient is really necessary – desire. So if that describes you, then lace on some good shoes and head out the door. It doesn’t matter how far or not far you get.

Yes, your lungs may burn – walk home and try again tomorrow.

Yes, your muscles may be sore – use an icepack, maybe take an NSAID, and try again in a couple days. (But don’t push yourself to the point of injury.)

Keep it up, and see what happens in six months or so.

One more thing: Congratulations. You achieved what you wanted. You’re a runner.

I Gotta Be Me

I Gotta Be Me - Raw - ResizeAnyone who does regular physical activity has likely run across at least one modern hard-core guru. The most famous are:

— Jocko Willink, 20 years a Navy SEAL, New York Times #1 Best Selling Author, podcaster, and CEO of his company, Echelon Leadership.

— David Goggins, another retired Navy SEAL, author of “Can’t Hurt Me”. His two interviews with Joe Rogan have over six million views on YouTube.

These guys are tough. Super tough. A few of their quotes tell the story:

Goggins: “There is no better way to grow as a person than to do something you hate every day.” … “Suffering is the true test of life.”

Willink: “It’s not what you preach. It’s what you tolerate.” … “Don’t fight stress. Embrace it.”

I have tremendous respect for both gentlemen. Their military service is the reason I live free. Their athletic accomplishments are amazing. They’ve motivated thousands of folk to get off the couch (although Goggins says “Motivation is crap”). The principles they teach are valuable guides for much of life.

Still, I can’t allow myself to feel guilty for not emulating them.

News Flash – I’ve never been a Navy SEAL. I’m a slightly-older-than-middle age man who’d like to lose five pounds, who enjoys swimming, running, and riding a bike. Key word: “enjoys.” I don’t want to hate it every day. As for suffering … Yeah, it happens, but I avoid it when possible. And hitting the road is what I do to relieve – not increase – the stress level.

Not that I’m a slug. I work out six days a week, sometimes twice a day. There are pool sessions, track workouts, long runs, cycling, and strength training – by which I mean lifting moderate weights while watching Jeopardy.

And quotes? Here are a couple of mine: “Look. An inaugural 5K. Maybe none of the fast people will show up and I can place in my age group.” Or “Hurray! I only walked through the water stops this time.”

So, you’re right, David, I’m not that one in a hundred you talk about who’s a warrior. That would be Jocko, you, and many of your followers, some of whom I know personally and admire. I’m more of a fitness lover. And that’s OK. Because I gotta be me.

Just Add Water

It was a Saturday, a couple weeks after my first full marathon. Foolishly, I’d jumped right back into a significant running schedule. About three miles down the road it hit. Major pain. I began limping back to home base.Swimmer - Copy

Soon the Ford Explorer pulled up. My coach, Terri, opened the door and said, “Get in.” As we spoke about my situation, she added, “I want you to start cross training. Swimming.”

That afternoon I joined a gym with a lap pool. Today – several years later – there’s a swim coach, two or three workouts a week, and participation in all kinds of group events and competitions.

Swimming is amazing, in an ultimate paradoxical kind of way. It can be poetic, musical, artistic. As beautiful as ballet. It’s also frustrating as … well, you know. Because unlike running, which is a primal homo sapien activity, proper swimming must be learned. It’s purely about technique. Make that plural. There are so many actions to master.

But in those moments when it all comes together, few experiences are better. Arms and legs moving rhythmically, every muscle in harmony, water supporting you as you glide along feeling on top of it.

Some people say that swimming is a total body workout. I’d call it a total human workout, because it goes beyond the physical. Emotionally and spiritually, your whole being is focused inward (it’s hard to converse when you’re swimming), so it’s a perfect way to get to know yourself and explore whatever’s going on in there.

Feeling severe pain in my leg on the run that morning, and the time it took to get back to the streets, was disappointing in some ways. But I’m actually glad it happened, because through it I gained another highly enjoyable activity: Swimming.

All I had to do was add water.

A Fisherman And A Runner Walk Into A Bar

Fishermen have a long reputation for being stretchers of the truth. They’ve been known to exaggerate the size of the epic catch years ago, or – even better – the one that got away. But here’s something that hasn’t made it to mainstream common knowledge: Runners lie as badly or worse than any angler in history.

When a running buddy asks you to join him or her for five miles at a 10-minute pace, be prepared for six and a half at 9:30. This principle applies across all levels of the athletic spectrum, from the super fast to the casual run / walker. Scientifically speaking, I’ve noticed a fib factor of around 20%, though it can certainly go higher.

I confess that I’m an offender myself. A few days ago, a friend and I set out for what I said would be six by 800-meter repeats. Finishing the fifth one, I announced “only two more.” She wasn’t even surprised. And just this morning I told my wife I was going out for six or seven miles. The final tally? 8.2.

Unlike fishermen, whose tales exceed reality, runners misrepresent themselves in the opposite direction. I’d like to believe that’s because we’re people of such high integrity. More probable it has to do with the ease in which our exploits can be fact checked. Apps like Strava, Garmin Connect, and Nike Fit keep us honest, and race results are posted online for anyone to see. Saying you ran a four-hour marathon doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when the official event website shows 4:35:19. Internet-connected surveillance cameras on deep sea charter boats might have the same effect.

The big question is “Why do runners say they’ll do less and then do more?” Perhaps because actually running is way more fun than thinking about running – at least up to a point. Six miles might sound daunting when you’re pondering it, but when you get to four, and your breathing is rhythmic, your legs are moving like a fluid machine, and you’re enjoying the scenery … well, heck, it’s just a little farther.

So if you’re ever in a bar and a fisherman and a runner walk in, there will no doubt be interesting conversations all around. But don’t believe a word either of them say.