Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Oh Why Do We Do This?

It is the question to end ALL questions: Why? People look for answers in all facets of life, but none are looked at with more skepticism, disbelief and rolled-eye inquisitiveness than that of the endurance athlete. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters – sorry William, the ladies rock!) are constantly asked why it is we do what we do and, to be completely honest, I typically hear two or three answers: 1) the bucket list approach; 2) the thrill of competition; 3) the Life cereal approach – I like it. I really like it! They are both valid answers, but there is always something more to it than that. Something else that drives us to take a pass at sleeping in on the weekends in favor of a long run and puts us to bed early on “date nights” to race the next day. This past year I had one runner in particular help bring this into focus for me, my reason for running, training and pushing myself every week.

I met Hannah some time ago through a mutual acquaintance with the understanding that she wanted to train for her first marathon and run it in under four hours, but needed some guidance along the way. Of course I said yes and immediately got started designing the framework for her plan. She had done a few halves, but had never gone any farther than 13 miles, so I knew that it would take some time to get things up to speed. Hannah took to the training amazingly well, even amidst a few minor injury setbacks, getting stronger all the time. Then about two-thirds of the way into everything a bomb dropped.

Hannah got a call from her family telling her that her father, a marathoner himself who was going to be running with her, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) and was not only going to be incapable of running the race with her, but would in all likelihood not be going to Vermont at all. Now, most people rocked with news like that are rattled to their very core and Hannah was, but rather than having this news quell her spirit she took it and used it as motivation. Within the span of a few days she stayed on-track with our program, set-up fundraising for ALS research in her father’s name and had exhibited more heart, drive and determination to hit her mark for father than most of the elites do.

When the time came, Hannah hit her mark in Vermont and did so with a surprise visit from her father on the course, showing her how truly amazing the human spirit is. I remember getting the call from her and the pain, pride and utter happiness that was in her voice as she professed her success and how much it meant to her to have her father there for it.

Have I got ya thinkin’ yet?

When I thought back on those 18-weeks and that one perfect day on the course for Hannah it churned up a lot that I had not thought about in some time. Like Hannah and most everyone, I suppose, I do what I do for my parents. My father, the do-everything man, is one of the major reasons I got into coaching and much of what I have in terms of skill working with people is derived from him. A thunderclap of a rumbling voice, a kind, gentle hand, and one of the most insanely brilliant logical minds I have ever come across with a clean, simple love for the purity of sport. He has coached soccer for over 25 years, the majority of those years training teams that did not feature any of his own children, and has never asked for a dime in doing so. He loves the game, his teams and has only ever wanted to help each and every player become a better athlete and inspire them as individuals. As I write this, he is probably preparing food stores for his annual trip to Emmaus House with his players to make Thanksgiving dinner for those less fortunate, something that I have had the honor of being a part of over the years. He is a remarkable man that I strive to emulate each day of my life and can only hope to leave as profound a footprint as he has on the lives of so many of his athletes.

My mother is not an athlete, nor does she feign to be, although there are those of us who think she should go to the Olympics for power walking … the woman is like a serial killer in a horror movie, no matter how fast you go she always seems to catch you. Regardless of her lack of athleticism she is tougher than any endurance athlete you will ever encounter. She has stared down the demon that is breast cancer twice and has smote it both times. Soft spoken, sweet, and powerful in spirit and words, a talent that has inspired me, she has always shown me the way to live my life, embracing every breath with warm, loving arms and keeping your mind focused on what is good in this World and what you can do to help make it better one individual at a time. She is selfless, almost to a fault, and wholly and freely opens her heart to those in need and only ever asks for them to pay it forward and help someone else in their time of need. It is the rhythm of her heart that beats so powerfully within my own every time I lace them up.

Why do I run? I run for them. I run for my father who is the man who is everything I strive to be. I run to inspire my runners, leading by example, as he has done for me from day one. I run for my mother whose strength and enormous heart fuels these words and whose strength in spirit drives me everyday to be more than I am. I run for my brother and sister who think I am totally insane for running any more than five miles at a time and yet constantly remind me how amazing and important it is to have them as part of my support system. I run for my runners, because I know no other way than to lead by example and give them everything that I am everyday no matter what it is they need, whether it is running advice, saying the right words, or just the comfort of knowing that they are NEVER alone. Lastly, I run for you, who are kind enough to read this long post, and the hope that I have inspired you in some way with this to think about why you lace up your trainers each day and the footprint you leave behind.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.