May 1997

It happens to all of us I think. The moment comes when what was impossible is possible, the unthinkable thinkable, the undoable done. 

Thinking back to those first struggling steps, to the time when a mile seemed like the farthest distance I could imagine running, I never would have guessed I could run a half marathon just for fun. But I did.

Remembering how hard it was to run 15 miles a week, I never would have thought about running a 50 mile week. But I have. And I have stayed with my running. I have learned how to train smarter, eat better, and be honest with myself.

As runners, we have only a few choices when we’re ready to take the next step. We can run farther, run faster, or learn to be happy with what we have. Since few of us are ever content with where we are, our choices are really only farther or faster.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer for every runner. For me, the obvious choice was to try to run faster. So I read all I could about getting faster. I thought about pushing off and striding, about VO2 max and anaerobic threshold. I did intervals and tempo runs. 

To my amazement, I actually got faster. I ran PR’s at nearly every race. My 5K time dropped under 30 minutes, then under 25, then into the 23’s.

Suddenly I was competitive. No, not in my age group. But hey, there are some pretty tough 70 year olds out there who don’t just let you pass them. But even in the middle of my euphoria over improved times, I could read the handwriting on the wall. There was still a long way to go before I’d be a threat to anyone even 10 years older than I.

So I decided to run farther. Too quickly at first. It took me about a year of limping around on sore knees to realize you can’t double your mileage all at once. In time, though, my daily runs went from 3 to 5 miles and my long runs from 1 to 3 hours. Eventually I was standing at the starting line of a marathon.

There are a few “first-times” in our lives that we remember forever. Finishing the first marathon is one of those. Like some other firsts, this one was more and less than I imagined. Like some other firsts, it ended before I wanted it to. And as soon as it was over, I wanted to do it again.

When doing one marathon a year wasn’t enough, I did 2, then 3. When that wasn’t enough, I did 2 just 6 weeks apart. Now, this year, I’m planning 2 marathons on back to back weekends. Still, it didn’t seem like enough.

Then it hit me. I’d fallen into the trap that so many of us do. No matter how fast we are, we believe we can always be faster. No matter how far we run, we believe we can always run farther. We are never content with where we are.

Therein lies the riddle: How to balance our desire to improve with the joy of what we have. I don’t have a good answer, but I know what happens to me. I go back and forth.

At times I am so content I can’t imagine ever wanting more than I have. No more speed. No more distance. But there are times when I simply must run faster. And days when I must run farther.

If I’m content too long I get stale. If I push my limits too often I get frustrated. So, as best I can, I give in to the moods. I’m learning that I’ll probably always want just a little more from myself. But I’m also learning how to enjoy the gift that running brings to my life.

Waddle on, friends.

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