Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fuel - the long, boring history lesson

Why do you run?

It's a simple question, really.  For those of us who do so with any regularity, though...the answer is never very simple.  I'm sure many runners, triathletes, climbers, and other "competitive athletes" might need a good few sessions on Freud's couch in order to find out for themselves. Usually, the answer involves words such as "escape" and "release." 

I'm no different.  As a kid, I was perpetually restless, hyper, distracted, bored, and curious.  When my 9th grade P.E. teacher told me to go out for cross-country, I quickly found an outlet for all my extra energy.
Up to this point, I was a serious little hockey brat.  In-season, my time on the ice regularly exceeded 15 hours a week.  I spent countless more hours practicing my shots on a dryland net, reading books, drawing up plays, and dreaming of one-timing the game-winner off of a no-look Gretzky pass to the delight of tens of thousands of screaming fans.

What I couldn't stand about hockey was this - I busted my ass.  I was good, but that was a relative term.  There were plenty of kids who viewed hockey as an afterthought.  I knew very few who were willing to outwork me.  It allowed me to hold my own...problem is, I never excelled.  Furthermore, watching all these other kids who didn't put in 20% of my effort improve by leaps and bounds and surpass me just made me burn.  What?  Life isn't fair???

Running fit me well.  Obviously, being a skinny dude helped.  However, the skill set I possessed that finally could be exploited was my ability to lay out a long-term goal and work toward it over time.  In no other sport is "talent" so much defined not so much by physical traits but by the ability to plan...the ability to persevere and work towards a far-away goal without instant gratification.  In other words, the correlation between HARD WORK and RESULTS is stronger in a sport like running than in any of the "games" kids play such as hockey, soccer, and football.

Soon, running joined hockey as my second major activity.  I was nothing special - 5:05/10:50 and JV kid on a weak XC team in Omaha as a freshman, 5:03/10:50/17:57 and a ho-hum varsity runner on yet another mediocre XC team as a sophomore.

Possibly the most life-changing event happened over the next summer.  My family moved for the umpeenth time...this time from Omaha, NE to suburban Minneapolis.  I was stoked - for once, I'd be able to play hockey with the big boys!  Turned out to be a very different story.

At Wayzata HS, I was introduced to the single most influential person in my entire life - my coach, Bill Miles.  Running up until now was just something I did because I wasn't half-bad at it.  Bill changed how I looked at it.  Running became a passion.  Whereas it used to be a source of stress - "oh man, we've got to do 400's today?  Blech!" - it became a way of relieving stress.  He helped turn it into a drug for me.

I learned many life lessons in those two years...some of which lay dormant for many years, not to be called on until I truly needed them.  My philosophies on training, running, work, relationships, on just about everything...I can track them all back to my time running for Bill.  We won a state championship my senior year - the first of six that Bill has coached at Wayzata.  That was merely a byproduct of the attitude, the philosophy, the life-view Bill instilled in each of us, though.  Countless hundreds of kids from Wayzata will back me up on that bold statement.

I ran in college, as well, at UW-La Crosse.  Even though I got to run at nationals, and had the fortune of being on the team when we won our first national title, the effect it had on my life was far less.  Out of college, I got busy doing what you're supposed to do - grow up, get a job, get married, ditch the fun and games, and become sedentary.  I did an amazing job of this, having all of them wrapped up in record time.  I still ran, but strictly for fun.  A 1:28 half became cause for celebration.  And I must admit, it wasn't "fun" as it was before.  I was slowly turning into a "skinny fat man" and hating every minute of it.  I kinda gave triathlon a shot - did Ironman a couple three times.  Sucked at it - 12:40, 11:50, and 11:20.  Moved to CO, had a kid, changed careers.  I was stuck in a rut and looking for answers.

Enter my divorce.  No one event can knock you on your ass like that.  I needed some sort of stability.  Something I could count on as I sorted out the rest of my life...and guess what was there, just waiting for me?  While the other 23 hours of my day were spent wallowing, I had control over my demons when I stepped out that door.  The gift I had been given many years ago came through and gave me the stability and hope I needed to pull myself together and figure out what I wanted to be when I came out of "this mess."

Since 2008, I have embraced running to extent I never before imagined.  The by-products have been mostly positive.  I have more control over my life than at any other point in least, I THINK I do.  When it comes down to it, how you view the world around you is more important than the world itself.  Hence the title of my blog.  I can't control what comes to me, but I can control how I react to it.

Anyone who is in his mid-thirties and runs as much I do obviously is fueled by something.  I think that fuel is different for everyone.  Mine...there's something inside me that never goes to sleep.  Only by running, climbing mountains, biking...only then can I quiet the voices and find peace.  When I sit on my ass, I'm miserable.  I fidget.  I argue.  I patronize.  When I get out the door, though, I find an outlet for all that negative vibe.  Sitting in traffic these days doesn't raise my blood pressure.  Listening to political opinions at odds with my own doesn't make my blood boil.  I can control my negative passions when I have a benign outlet for them.

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