One of the teachers I work with at the elementary school told me the other day how much she enjoyed reading the blog.  Her husband is a pretty hard core runner and has been trying to convince her that she is also a hard core runner though she has not entirely accepted this new identity.  He said, “I see you in there reading that Running Monologue, so you’re a real runner even if you don’t think you are.”  His thinking is that if she spends her free time reading about running, she must be serious about it.  The irony here is that while my blog is entitled Running Monologue and did, in fact, start off as a blog about running and raising kids, running has been conspicuously absent from my posts for quite some time now.

Running has been much less present in my regular everyday life as well.

While 2012 has been a terrific year in many ways and I have made huge strides in some of my personal goals and dreams, it has been the worst year of running I have ever had.  Ever.

After two fairly significant injuries and a bout of sickness that took over a month to recover from, my motivation has been, at best, a little lacking.  I have even been embarrassed to go out with some of my regular running partners because my fitness level has been on a steady decline for nearly six months.

A friend asked if I might like to join her for a tough hill climb, which I thought sounded great until she told me where she would be starting.  All told, the run would be 12 miles, six miles up and six back.  The six up I could handle; it was the total mileage I was unsure of.  It turns out, I couldn’t make it when she wanted to go anyway, but it made me realize how far I have fallen since my 44 miles in June and how unaware my running friends are of said fall.  I am back at the beginning.

Every time I go out to run, John Lennon’s “Starting Over” plays in my head.

I have really been struggling with motivation.  I can’t remember a time when I’ve been so far in the hole, and it’s been hard to climb out.  I miss racing, but I dread toeing the line for the first time and finding out just how far I’ve fallen.

This morning, Rob and I headed out to the high school track for some repeats.  I did 10 x 400 at 7:30 pace, which was fairly encouraging despite the fact that I used to do 16 x 400 at 6:30 pace.  Rob reminded me that I shouldn’t compare what I’m doing now to what I was doing at my peak.  It’s just too depressing.

Yes, it was a reminder of how far I have fallen and how far I have to go in order to get back (and believe me, it takes a lot longer to climb up than it does to slide back down), but it was also a lot of fun.  I felt surprisingly strong, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could run ONE repeat at 7:30 pace, much less 10. 

I also remembered, once I was out there and my heart began to beat hard in my chest and my lungs burned just a little with the sharp intake of cool air and my legs began to feel fatigued around repeat #7, why I do this stuff, why I ever did it to begin with and why I need to keep doing it for as long as my body will let me. 

As I warmed up, I saw a huge hawk sitting atop the scoreboard eating a squirrel.  That might sound sort of dark and a little bit gross, but I have to tell you, one of the things I love most about running is that I see things, up close and personal, that I wouldn’t see otherwise.  I see wild turkeys, horses that run alongside me inside their fences on solitary country roads, deer that bound across open fields, cows and old silos silhouetted against an orange sunset, and hawks soaring below me as I top tall mountains of rock.  There are very few runs, in fact, where I don’t see something that made lacing up my shoes worthwhile.

I also like the feeling of pushing myself and finding out I can do what I set out to do, sometimes even more than I thought I could do.  I wasn’t sure of what to expect this morning, and to be honest, I felt a little afraid.  I was afraid of finding out I was even worse off than I had imagined.  But that didn’t happen.  I actually discovered the opposite, which, it seems, is often the case.

And running makes me grateful.  It always has.  As I pumped my arms and pushed off as quickly and powerfully as I could along the far side of the track, my feet moved through a pile of fallen leaves and the sun shined down on my face and I could close my eyes and breathe deeply and know how lucky I am.  Yes, I’ve gained weight, and I’ve slowed down, and I feel annoyed with myself for not being as dedicated (OK, obsessed) as I once was, but more than that, I feel blessed.  So deeply blessed.  I am healthy, and not only that, I am strong—really strong.   And I know that I can work my way back, maybe not to my peak, but to a place where I feel like I am reaching my full potential.

And isn’t that the point really—to get the most out of what we have been given?  My frustration with myself isn’t really that I’ve gotten older and slower or even that I’ve gained weight; it’s that I haven’t been using what God has given me and making the most of it. 

I suppose all things have their seasons, so I don’t plan to spend any more time beating myself up over this slump that, frankly, has gone on long enough.  One of my friends, a phenomenal runner himself, once told me that the thing he admired about me was that I got more out of my God-given abilities than anyone else he knew.  He often reminds me that I don’t have a lot of natural talent but is always quick to point out that I have done amazing things despite that fact.  I know what he says about my lack of natural ability is true, so it doesn’t hurt my feelings, and I always felt a certain pride in knowing that what he said about getting the most out of what I did have was also true.  I squeezed every drop I could, and it paid off.  I guess I haven’t been doing much squeezing lately.  I miss that.

During this Thanksgiving and as we enter this time of self-reflection and the season of Advent, my heart is full of gratitude for all the gifts I have been given.  But I don’t want to just say I’m thankful, even though that’s important too; instead, I want to show my gratitude by making the most of what I’ve been given.  I want to squeeze every drop from the overwhelming blessings that have been poured out on me.

Like most things, I think this lesson extends so far beyond running.  During this Advent season, we should consider ALL the gifts that have been bestowed upon us.  They may not be the same gifts that others possess, but they are gifts nonetheless.  It is our obligation, then, to use them, to squeeze every drop from them, to get the most out of them that is possible, and to share them with others.

Journal Topic: What are the gifts you’ve been given?  What have you done to cultivate those gifts?  Have you gotten the most out of your abilities that you possibly can?  If not, what’s stopping you?



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