Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Reasons for Running

   I would like to say I've been a runner all of my life, but that couldn't be further from the truth. When I was younger I just didn't understand why an otherwise sane person would run just to run. In fact I didn't even consider running as a sport. Track and Field was semi-entertaining but throw me a football and let me show you how these magic fingers worked. Running to me was always the middle aged man attempting to lose a few pounds because he was going through some sort of a life crisis, until I became that man.

   Far removed from the glory days of catching a football here I am, a 36 year old man just on the other side of my own crisis, now running. It is only nine days after my first marathon and I've already logged another 22.95 miles. On my run Sunday, one that wasn't planned I might add, I was struggling. The wind was beating me down and my body just didn't have the energy. Around the 4 mile mark of the 7 mile run I began to think "why am I doing this ? You should have rested like you planned ! " Nothing except negative thoughts were crawling through my mind until I just stopped. That brief minute at the intersection as I waited for the cars to pass I lifted my head to the sun looked at the changing leaves and smelled a fall bonfire burning in the distance and thought "I love this !"  Now I would love to weave some inspirational story that my love for that moment enabled me to pick up my pace and the run magically became easy, but as any runner knows that would be pure fiction. Truth is my struggles continued until the entire seven miles was in the books.

 Throughout the next day I started to think to myself what my reasons were for running. From the stories I've read it seems everyone has their own reasons for taking part in this crazy sport. Some very inspirational and some just make sense. My story is somewhere in between.

  Four years ago I started to run and honestly I didn't even consider myself a runner. I was that middle aged man battling daily to save a failing marriage. I didn't even feel as if I belonged on the road, but as my marriage deteriorated the road was the only place I found comfort (that thought obviously came in hindsight). Here I was, this guy on a back country road almost embarrassed because I could only do two miles and all the while any passer by would have thought I was having a heart attack. I was a fair weather runner. Once the cold air moved into Ohio for the winter I was done. In fact I didn't even like to go get the mail let alone log a few miles. Besides the air burned my lungs, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my fingers and toes got to cold. I'm sure you get the picture by now, I made up every excuse I could not to get out there.

  Winter would pass and I would find my way back out on the road making a feeble attempt to build some endurance. As I look back now the more stress I had in my life the more I would run. The pavement became one of my therapists as I'm sure it has for many of us. The other was my best friend Buster. An old golden retriever that knew and shared everything in my life. For those that know me, yes my boxer Sammy was there as well but she was partial to my now ex-wife and the kids. At the beginning of that first summer I lost my best friend. Buster was 13 and not wanting the kids or my wife to see what I was going through I hit the road running. I was utterly devastated, lost and felt I had lost the only friend I had in my life. The road is where everything seemed to make sense and it was where I could go to visit Buster. The memories I carried of him on those runs made the time that I wasn't running tolerable.

   Those 2 miles became 3 and then 4. I eventually out grew my road so I started to hit the high school track. I was doing 5 mile runs with ease or so I thought it was easy. I began to hold my ground against Mother Nature. For two years my last run for the year ended on Christmas Eve. When that day came I began to feel as if I had accomplished something for the year.

   Last year was a turning point in my life. With my marriage now legally over I began to break out of my shell and on those runs that I needed so bad I began to evaluate my part that contributed to the failed marriage. I began to work on things so that I could be a better man, a better person. The road helped me sort out all of the feelings and issues I had with myself and somewhere along the side of one of these back country roads I found my peace.

   My life had started over. I had met some new friends that opened their lives and families up to me. People that took a chance on me when they were entrenched in their own war, and as I had done in the past with my old friend Buster I began to take these new friends running with me. Depending on how tough the day was I'd take their kind smile or their wise advice or just a simple thought that someone enjoyed me as a person. Running to me took on an entirely new meaning and the conversations I had with the road, I believe has made me a better man.

   Christmas Eve was here and as in previous years the official end to my running season. There was snow on the track. I couldn't make out the lanes but I plowed through it logging my five miles in the dark and at the end I didn't feel as if I had accomplished anything. Walking back to my car I said maybe it will hit me tomorrow after all Santa was coming so maybe that will be my gift. As with every Christmas I was up at the crack of dawn (yes I'm a big kid and love Christmas). I wake and no feeling of accomplishment wrapped up under the tree. Just my dogs looking at me as if to say "Dad come back to bed 4:30 is way to early for us". I got dressed and drove to my parents to wake them with my brothers and still no gift of accomplishment. We enjoyed a great holiday filled with laughs, naps, food and gifts. Just what I needed for my first Christmas flying the sleigh solo.

  On my way home I still couldn't understand why I was missing the feeling that had taken hold of me the past two years. Once I was home I figured there was only one way to find it so on that Christmas night I went running looking for that lost feeling. The only thing I found that night was that running for me, now has no season.

   I continued on and a new chapter of my life opened when I began training for and running races. I've only raced in a few but that long lost feeling of accomplishment that I went out searching for Christmas night was found. At the completion of my first race (a grueling half marathon in the cold and rain) that feeling I had been searching for was waiting for me as I was running to the finish. I crossed the line and my emotions slapped me in the face. That emotional feeling of accomplishment has met me at the finish of all of my races. An unbelievable feeling that makes the heart swell with pride and the eyes fill with tears. For everything that I left out on the course mental and physical, the finish line actually became the start of something new.

   Looking back at the past few years from where I was to where I am now I'm amazed. The physical, emotional and mental transformation that has taken place in my life has been unbelievable. I was one never to show my emotions, take risks or break away from my routine. I'm still a creature of habit but I no longer feel the need to sit back and wait my turn in life. There is the old saying that people don't change. I am living proof that they can but the decision has to be made and worked on everyday.

   When my story started I was running from the stress in my life. The road gave me answers and helped me develop patience with things I can't control. I turned the page and started running towards something. That feeling that I was worth something and that I could accomplish anything became my focus. As long as I remember the lessons the road has taught me I know that the feeling of accomplishment will always be waiting for me and in the end I believe I've learned the true reasons I run.....

   I run to remember all of the blessings I have had in my life. I run to remember all of my amazing friends. I run to remember their smiles, their small gestures of friendship that mean the world to me. I run to remember the friend that is no longer here with me but to know he still is. I run to remind myself to be a better person, a better man, a better friend. Everyone fights their own battles. Some we win some we lose. but the road has taught me how to put those lost battles behind me and learn from the path I have taken. Running has made me the man I am today and by continuing to run it will make me a better person tomorrow. This is why I run.

                                                                       Joe Vanek


  1. Fantastic tribute to your growth and to those in your life. Brought tears to my eyes.

  2. WOW. Just wow. It really starts to make me wonder why I log all the miles I do.

  3. very incredible story... As I was reading through your story, its amazing how true and similar my running story is with yours.