I haven't exercised much since 1993, the year I graduated from high school and won a state gold medal in the 4×800 meter relay. Sure, I have purchased gym memberships and bike equipment, but I haven't used either much, except perhaps for the few months of biking I did just prior to my October 2002 wedding. I gained weight, got warnings from doctors about borderline blood pressure and high cholesterol, and purchased larger-sized pants. I haven't done much of anything to return to any semblance of the athlete I was in high school.
To be clear, I know that I'll never run a 4:23 mile or a 16:30 5K ever again. And I'll never weigh in at 169 pounds, my high school weight, again (at 6' tall and a big frame, I was one of the biggest runners on my team). And I'll never win a gold medal in anything again. And I'm OK with that … now. But that wasn't always the case.
You see, for me – someone who experienced significant success as a runner in high school – the past has been an amazing deterrent to my attempts to keep fit. I think the past can do that to many men. In recent years when I've gone out running I've felt dejected that what was so easy in the past had become so difficult, and I quickly lost patience and confidence. The framed gold medal and photo of my relay team hanging on the wall was simultaneously a source of great pride and of great shame – Look at what I once did! But wow, look at me now.
I think I've turned a page, however. Since Easter my wife and I have been running again. We started slowly, with the Couch to 5K training program. [When I say slowly, I mean slowly – the first week of workouts consist of 60 seconds of jogging followed by 90 seconds of walking, for 20 minutes.] We ran our first 5K on May 29, and now I'm up to running 4-5 miles on training runs three days/week. Though when I'm running my mind and my body remember what it was like to run 17-20 years ago – and that experience surely helps me today – I'm quite happy these days with distance runs that come in at a 9:30 pace, rather than the 6:00 or faster pace I often ran on such runs in high school.
What made me commit to running now? People, specifically my wife, a few friends, and many strangers. It all started when a couple from church invited me to sign up for the Army Ten Miler in October, knowing that I was looking to get back into shape. And since the race registration last year filled up in less than a week – and that's for 30,000 runners! – I didn't have much time to mull it over. I said yes, got online, and signed me and my wife up for the run. Then I joined the Couch to 5K page on Facebook, and was excited to post my updates on the page after each workout, and read how others were doing with the plan. Finally, I joined DailyMile.com, a social network for runners, cyclists, and triathletes. Sharing workouts, receiving advice and encouragement, and "meeting" other runners has been a great help for me as I've stepped up my running since May.
What does all this mean? Like many people my age, and particularly many pastors, I am overweight and out of shape. Getting reacquainted with a long-lost passion of mine has been a gift from God, for all kinds of reasons. I am working on my health and investing time and energy into something I love to do, a commitment which forces me to re-evaluate my priorities, from the foods I eat to the schedule I keep to the amount of work I'm willing to take on.
But perhaps most significant for me is the way that returning to running has allowed me to reconcile who I was with who I am. For many years I've sort of written off my former running success, so irreconcilable was the memory of my "glory days" with the weight gain and fitness failure of my 20's and 30's. And though I am not the runner that I once was, I am a runner again … and that alone makes me happy beyond belief. I'm on the road to health and fitness, and am excited for the 10K and Ten Mile races I'm running in August and October.
Well, there's more to say about this, but it's time to go to bed. I have a 5:00am alarm set to wake me up for my morning run.