Betty Says: Why Run?

Running is easy. This was hard.

Today’s question comes all the way from Canada (hello, Canada!) and asks the ever-important question:

Dear Betty,

What made you decide to start running? Why do you stick with it?

– Curious in Calgary

Hi Curious,

I have no doubt that all of the high school friends who’ve reconnected with me on Facebook are a little bit dumbfounded; 20 years ago, I couldn’t run down the basketball court without gasping for breath and wishing that someone would put me out of my misery. This was a source of endless frustration for my grandmother, the Real Betty, who was a high school track star in the 1930s.

Today (the anniversary of my 2nd half marathon, 2008 in Philly) I’m training for my third half marathon and have a wall that’s increasingly filling with race bibs and participant medals, and a drawer stuffed with gaudy race tees. So what happened?

Well, I was in the middle of labor with the Tiny Kitchen Assistant; natural childbirth, without drugs. I’m a bit of a badass, you see (read: out of my freakin’ mind). For some reason that still remains a bit of a mystery, I turned to my husband and declared that if I lived through this, I’d sign up for a half marathon. I suppose that it made sense on some level. Running had always seemed impossibly difficult, yet here I was doing the hardest thing in the universe. On a scale of 1 to 10, my pain level was already at 23. Compared to that, running seemed easy.

I was wrong about that last part. Running isn’t easy. It’s challenging. Really, really challenging. And yet, it’s that very challenge that makes it strangely satisfying. I ran (walked more than I ran, really) my first race — the 2007 Nike half marathon — 13 months after my son was born, and said that I was done with distance running. I ran my second half 11 months later, probably to prove that the first wasn’t a fluke, and said that I was done with distance running.

I signed up to run my third last year, in memory of Bob and his battle with lymphoma, but also because I’m stubborn and wanted a shot at running — really running — Nike again. And we all know how last season ended. So here I am again, swearing that This Time is the Last Time. (Coach Tim wants me back for a full marathon next year. I roll my eyes and tell him that we’ll see after Nike, which you’ll notice isn’t an outright no.)

All you need is a pair of good running shoes and running can be whatever you want it to be. You can head out for a quick sprint or go for a long, leisurely run. You can be utterly solitary or run with friends and teammates. You can run on a road, a beach or a trail. It never has to be the same thing twice. And that’s probably why I stick with it. I fantasize about it. I see a giant hill and think I can tackle it. I envision myself crossing the finish line of races long and short. It never goes quite as smoothly in reality, but it’s the crazy fantasy that keeps me going.

What about you? Why do you run? What got you started and why do you keep going?

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2 Responses

  1. Jason says:

    I started running sort of for the the same reason as you — my kid. There’s a history of heart disease in my family, and over about a decade, I let myself get fairly overweight and out of shape. Just after the kiddo turned a year old, I decided that I owed her — and my family and myself! — better than that… and I decided that I wanted to include her in the solution. Thinking that through, I decided that I’d try to haggle an old jogging stroller out of someone in the neighborhood and try running with her.

    I started in June of 2009 with a few loops around a local block-sized park early in the morning — running the short sides, walking the long sides — and then progressed to running the long sides and walking the short sides, followed by running the whole damn thing, followed by getting bored with that and venturing out into the neighborhood. Empowered with data (go, RunKeeper!), I saw a steady improvement in my running, and had fun seeing the kiddo enjoying being pushed around the sights of Capitol Hill by her huffing and puffing dad. That led to a few races here and there, then a 10K, a half-marathon this past March, and now a marathon at the end of this October.

    The kiddo’s grown quite a bit since then, so much so that she only gets out with me once or twice a month; running has definitely turned into something I also now appreciate doing on my own or with running partners as much as I do with her. But I’m 40 lbs lighter, in *much* better shape, and like you I think about running a lot of the time and recognize that it’s changed my outlook on the world.

  2. Alisa says:

    It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to explain to others. Sure, you could lose weight and get healthy at the gym, but for numbers geeks like us, there’s something to be said for seeing time and distance rack up. It’s so quantifiable, so solitary (if you want it to be) and so brain-quieting.

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