Yes. You read it right. My last twenty-three years of training have resulted in nineteen completed and certified marathons (26.2 miles each). If you’re counting, that would be 497.8 miles of delicious agony. And that is not counting the 12,809 training miles of running I have logged in my journal.
To put it into stark perspective, I could run from Franklin, TN to Tokyo, Japan AND BACK and still have enough miles left over for a leisurely run to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN.
Although I can not echo Eric Liddell’s Chariots of Fire sentiment about running, i.e. I don’t necessarily feel God’s pleasure when I run, I do enjoy it and it has taught me invaluable lessons for my life. Here are four.
1. Rhythm in Life — As an artist, I usually get stereotyped as an undisciplined human being. And I must admit, that my lifestyle is quite eccentric, varied and, let’s just say, casual. The guys in the artist mentoring group I have led for the last ten years teasingly call me “the Jimmy Buffet of Franklin.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m thinking they aren’t referring to a person of routine.
In the middle of my most shaky and uncertain times, feeling as if my life was like a piece of paper that had been torn into a thousand pieces and thrown into the wind, I could still be found drumming the pavement. Somehow this crazy rhythm of running has helped maintain what little sanity, discipline and success I have attained.
As I force myself out of bed in all kinds of weather and with all sorts of emotion, one foot in front of the other yet one more time, the sound of my steps have been a metronome that provide tempo and harmony in the cacophony of life.
2. Life is NOT a Marathon — I understand what people mean when they use this metaphor, I just don’t personally believe it. Rather, I think that life is a series of sprints. Let me explain. I ran my first marathon when I was just over 30 years old and I did it the “purist” way. Running the entire 26.2 miles and suffering for weeks afterward. I lost all ten toenails. The next three or four marathons were more of the same.
But then I discovered a person that changed my marathon philosophy forever, and to whom I attribute my longevity and love for running these past twenty-plus years. His name is Jeff Galloway and he has revolutionized marathoning with his innovative teaching. His methods transform a daunting marathon into a series of doable sprints.
For example, instead of running the entire way, he teaches that a “run-walk” method produces results that are just as fast, but exponentially less damaging to your body. Incredibly, my first marathon utilizing his method was just as fast as my previous ones. But, the huge difference was normal functioning the very next day. I had little soreness and discomfort – no lost toenails – nice!
By turning the grueling 26.2 miles into a series of six-minute sprints, I realized increasingly faster times, less wear and tear on my body, more desire to do my training runs, and best of all, a sheer enjoyment of running. During the one minute walk (or sabbath, if you will), I would gather my breath, concentrate on relaxing my entire body, talk to my partner, and look around savoring the beautiful scenery in which I have been blessed to run these past 20 years.
This philosophy works equally well in life.
3. Relax! — After running a few miles, the body begins to tense up. You can literally feel it spread from shoulders to your neck and then down your back. Tension is an enemy of the long distance runner.
A running mentor taught me in my first year how to relax. He showed me how to gently hold my thumb and forefinger together – softly caressing each other. At the first sign of pressure, he said to instantly relax my fingers and shake the tension out. It is uncanny how that simple action permeates your entire body and sends a signal of relaxation.
He also taught me to brush those two fingers gently against the side of my running shorts as I run. This not only enhances the relaxation, but also keeps hands and arms low, which promotes relaxation in the shoulders and upper body and gives the added benefit of optimum balance.
I learned early in my vocal training that tension was the enemy of proper singing technique. As I walked through life, I also learned that tension is a primary cause of heart attacks and high blood pressure.
Let’s see, what would be the life application here? Oh yeah, RELAX! and run, sing and live better.
4. Complete Not Compete — The goal for 99.9% of marathoners is not to win. It is to finish, and hopefully, finish well. If you have ever watched the world-class Kenyan runners, you need no further explanation. I will never forget my first marathon, running as fast as I could run, in my Western mind-set of winning is the ONLY thing, watching the lead runner who was from Kenya cross the finish line just as I crossed the HALFWAY point.
With the burden of winning off my shoulders, I focused on completing the marathon, not competing with the other runners. You will never hear an experienced marathoner call the event a race.
I sometimes cannot fathom the blessing, good fortune and remarkable health it has taken to finish every marathon I have started. And to be healthy enough to run nineteen marathons is a feat I do not take for granted. Every marathon (and every training run) I whisper a prayer of thanks that I am able to continue running. Every time I cross the marathon finish line, I feel the wetness of tears (sweat, too) at the realization of the depth of the accomplishment – not of competing – but of completing. Less than 1% of people in the world have completed a marathon.
Traditions are important to me. The ragged hat in the picture above has protected my head for the last ten marathons. Having run the Disney World Marathon twelve times, I have what I can joyfully call a time-honored tradition there. Every time I enter the Magic Kingdom and make the “magical” turn onto Main Street and Cinderella’s castle appears through the mist of a Florida morning, I become a child once more. And every time I run the race, entering the castle, I move to the side, stop for a moment and scream to the top of my lungs.
Some of the runners think I’m insane, but I’ve found there are a few that nod with understanding. You see, if I focus on competing instead of completing, I wouldn’t be able to stop in the castle. And the magic would gradually disappear from my running — and my life. It is the child-like wonder that gets me up for yet another day, and yes, another marathon. It’s not the finish time, the P.R., or my age ranking. It is the magic.
I know this grates against our “win at all costs” Western mindset.
But the lessons learned from rhythm, sprinting, relaxing and completing not competing may be the very things that help us ALL finish our marathons — runner or not.
For me its running, what is it for you?