Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Confessions of a Non-runner Running

Save it! I don't want to hear it. Seriously. You know who you are...

Whenever I share how much I've ran recently, someone always comes out of the woodwork to declare how much more they run on a regular basis. "Oh, you ran three miles last week? I run that every morning." Yeah, I get that you're a natural-born runner, and that time is your moment to give your mind and body the indulgence of what comes instinctive to you. More power to you.

Can we please, though, stipulate that there are two types of people? Runners and non-runners.

Runners need to run. The adrenalin, the freedom and exhilaration are a genuine nourishment without which they experience a metaphysical emaciation. I know quite a few. Their posts on social media reveal that they are indeed "runners" and the miles they log dwarfs my remotest aspirations. The urge to get out and hit the trail or the road takes no great measure of discipline since it comes so instinctively to them. They often are natural athletes, and even may devote themselves professionally to a sport. It's a pleasure to witness them perform at the highest levels, and their example serves as an inspiration for what the human body is made to do.

Non-runners do not have the same instincts and appetites as runners do. Some exercise is intuitive, but mostly out of a sense of desiring fellowship with the more "naturally athletic." Non-athlete/non-runners have entirely different appetites. The "high"that the runner gets from running, the non-runner gets from a good book, learning something new or shooting their favorite firearm. While it's uncommon to find a runner who is out of shape, the non-runner could easily go in that direction. Unless they find an exterior motive to fuel the necessary discipline, exercise is not their default setting.

Contrary to perception of perhaps some of my friends, I would classify myself in the "non-runner," non-athlete category. When I was younger, I was more "athletic," but that was mainly due to teaching Kung Fu on a regular basis. Because I was a teacher, with responsibilities to train for and with my students, I trained martial arts regularly. This contributed to the perception of being "athletic," but it was always because I had established a sense of responsibility about it. I KNOW I will train kung fu multiple times this week...because I have multiple training times with students this week. At times when I was not teaching regularly, the discipline to train regularly - on my own - was far more difficult. The same can be said of other exercise. I've never been a bodybuilder, and haven't been one to work on muscles just for display (look up the new term "spornosexual"). Metabolism wise, I had a naturally slim physique up through my thirties, whether or not I taught kung fu regularly. Turning forty, though, changed that and for the first time I began describing my "disrespectful pants" which mysteriously had begun tightening for no particular reason.

The "disrespectful pants" were the "wake up call" to be mindful of what I ate, and make reasonable efforts to remain physically active even though my opportunities to teach kung fu were few and far between. For the non-athlete, developing an exercise regimen is not dissimilar from asking Helen Keller to first assemble a Rubik's Cube and then solve it. Where do you start? What do you work on? How do you exercise, workout, train? When should you do this? Who can offer reliable advice? The puzzle pieces are so daunting that many non-athletes simply elect to maintain the non-athletic lifestyle that a culture driven by information technology affords them. Such a divide has arisen between the athletes and non-athletes in a society catering to the non-athletic, that increasingly the imagery symbolizing both are the professional athlete at one end of the spectrum and the obese at the other. I found I could easily slide toward the latter since my days of being paid to be the former were far behind me.

So exercise and responsible eating became new foci; however, without a sufficient reason to maintain the discipline, workouts were sporadic at best. "Oh yeah," I'd say to myself, "it's been a while since I exercised. Better do some soon." Usually this was associated with some other stimulus like watching a "Rocky" movie (whichever episode; it doesn't matter). This is common among non-runners. About four years ago, it seemed wise to re-interject some outside motive back into the mix, and the decision was made to run a local 5K race. The thought was: "If I schedule it, then I'll train for it." This worked a bit in the short term, but I still had control over how often I entered a 5K race. I did one and found the sense of accomplishment from getting the finisher's medal appetizing. Still, it was a 5K race that happened once a year, so if I was to do more I'd have to find other races. Nothing grabbed me, so that phase quickly dissipated. Runners WILL find another race because they just HAVE to run. Non-runners will look at the one medal they got and say "I should do another one sometime."

In 2012, quite by random through clicking on an internet banner ad, I discovered Spartan Race. Spending time browsing it's web site, the "Spartan" motif appealed to my innate sense of adventure. In addition, the obstacles attracted a non-runner for breaking up what I found to be a normally boring enterprise (running) with a series of tasks that tested strength in other areas. That first year, it was clear that the registration fee would be cost-prohibitive for a family of five; however, Spartan Race has a program wherein one can volunteer for the race and then have their registration fee waived (paying only the nominal insurance fee). Thus we volunteered for a race in December 2012 to pay for registration in a race the following May. In May of 2013, we all participated in the Spartan SPRINT (3+ miles with 15+ obstacles). It was then that we "caught the bug" and decided that the Spartan races would be regular events for us. Having done one Spartan Race in 2013, the assumption was to do more in 2014. Fortunately, Spartan Race had scheduled multiple races in Texas for 2014. For this reason, we increased our participation goal to the vaunted "trifecta" (finish a SPRINT, a SUPER and BEAST in one calendar year). With the race expenses largely handled through volunteerism, the travel expenses were our chief obstacle. Spartan Race seemed to have addressed this also. Therefore, 2014 is seeing greater participation in athletic events than I have ever previously performed.

Having already planned the 2014 participation in advance, the schedule now required sufficient training to ensure that this participation resulted more in a positive experience than a negative one. This non-runner/non-athlete had planned to participate in several athletic/running events, and now must train for them, or else risk making them more bad memories than good ones. In a way, I had created similar accountability to what my teaching schedule did for me almost twenty years prior. I was not about to flake on a student back then, so I was honor-bound to train as much as the schedule required. In like manner, I was now going to prepare for regular participation in a Spartan Race because the schedule required it. Add to that my children's participation (for whom I needed to set an example) and the camaraderie of new "Spartan" friends, and the race schedule quickly became "etched in stone." As a result, each day I've been mindful of the next race coming that requires daily training.

A non-athletic, non-runner receives the Spartan Race WOD (workout of the day) email, logs miles of running (40+ in July) and concerns themselves with fitness related posts on social media, employing the power of "peer pressure" to connect with naturally athletic people for reminders of the who, what, where, how and why of fitness training. This makes some on social media think of me as "athletic." Instead, this confession must serve to clear the air. None of the training taking place is instinctive. No running session occurred because I love running. Visits to the gym are always more a matter of discipline than enjoyment. I use a Runkeeper app for the iphone that tells me how far I ran, and then shares it with social media, but that is only part and parcel to the "Spartan" lifestyle that has developed as a result of always seemingly training for a race. Nevertheless, this non-runner runs because the next Spartan Race is coming up, and I want that to be challenging joy...not a regretful drudgery.

I appreciate the runners in my life. They inspire, enthuse and set an example of life energy; and I enjoy having all of them in my circle of friends and acquaintances. However, someone must also speak for the non-runners; the non-athletes that perform these tasks as a matter of discipline; those for whom it's never gotten easy, never gotten instinctive, not become second-nature...
  • to get up early or stay up late, 
  • to strap on the shoes and head out the door, 
  • to head to the gym and sweat like a pig, 
  • to collect training gear like tires, ropes and weights, or
  • to run the extra mile
...because the next race is coming and they won't change the date if I'm not ready.

Someone has to speak for the non-runner who is running because they have to, but has no instinct to; for the non-athlete whose language has switched from "exercising" to "training" because they always are working out thinking of a date on the calendar, but had little inclination to otherwise; for the non-athletic/non-runner who suddenly finds themselves seemingly always fitness-minded because the vacation was planned around an athletic event they never thought they'd do in life.

For those that are training for an athletic event like Spartan Race, and preparing for it requires every ounce of discipline and willpower because it's never gotten to the point where it comes naturally, I salute you. I feel for you. I'm in the same boat. But this non-runner will keep running so long as some creative soul keeps concocting cool events that I can't wait to join in on one more time.

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