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.


Ali said...

You just left me with tears in my eyes. You are amazing, Josh, and I am very thankful that you are willing to coach me to a better running place.

Anne said...

Josh - Beautiful. Brilliant. Touching. Thank you for that piece of perfection.

JD said...

Dude, I run for you too!

Megan said...

Thank you for that amazingly touching and well written piece. I am all misty eyed and want you to know that you give me inspiration daily. Thank you for being my Coach! Happy Thanksgiving.

Siobhan said...

I am your sister and I think you are crazy...but thank you for giving me a bit insight into the madness that drives you. I think that you have moved far beyond wearing women's shirts and clown makeup to finding a far more profound and impactful way to express yourself and leave your mark on the world.

You are an AMAZING person and I am lucky to have you in my life.

Although I am flunkie at running, you inspire me as well to find a means to leave a mark and do good, no matter what form it takes.

Love you and will miss you this Thanksgiving!

Anne said...

Hmm - I'd like to know more about the women's shirts and clown makeup from your sister's comment.... haha

Bill Risch said...

To my running partner,

I need you back. The roads aren't the same without you. Seriously, I am thankful for such a great network of friends that I have made through running - who have not only helped me become a better runner and person, but have helped me become the same for others.

Josh, yes, I think you are crazy, but a good crazy. And your family is the best. Always worth a trip to Boston! Go Giants ;-)

Ms. V. said...

I run NOW because I have a relentless coach.

Fabulous post, SS.

Jamie said...

Yep, me too...tears in my eyes. What an awesome post! Thanks being part of my life and keeping me going, when no one else seems to care. And most of all thanks for reminding us that its about something more then just the finishing time

Maddy said...

Fantastic post! There is a lot of motivation there. Thanks for sharing with us!

I agree with Jamie - there's something more than just the finishing time!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Meg Runs said...

These were some very sincere thoughts and feelings and I think your parents are fotunate to have such an awesome son!

Matt said...

a wonderful message superlatively told. Thank you!

Michelle said...

Wow Josh, beautifully written. You have an amazing family and through them, you are who you are!!

It was really nice to meet you at the tweet up last night!! I am so out of your league of runner but I run because of the sheer joy it give to me.

Thank you for this amazing post!!!! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!!!


Jamie said...

Wow Josh.

I finally got around to reading this post and am really glad I did.

I'll add one more to that initial list you had. The army ad. Remember that army ad where say something like "If they wrote a book about your life, would anyone read it?"

That is mine, I want to do crazyfun shit that is book/movie worthy.

runner-grrl said...

Nice, inspiring post! Thanks for the gift of it... I was needing to be reminded of some of the other reasons we run. --Alex

prakash murthy said...

Wow, that is an inspiring post! Thanks

Chris Russell said...

I see the Ragnar shirt!

Seriously - I run for the purity of it. For that tripping point in a long race where your daemons become quiet, and you transcend. When you look inside yourself and find the courage and strength to rise above pain and furor and chaos. When everything stands still, except the purity of the moment, the blissful pain of un-remorseful abandon. It is at that point that you are stripped bare and know yourself in a way the non-endurance athletes will never know.
Run on - Squatch.

biker chic said...

so well said! it is just the same for cycling and triathlon. and as i push my limits, it's incredibly thrilling to see that my limits don't lie where i more than just sports!

DuffRunner said...

Josh-a very meaningful and powerful post. I can see how inspired you are. You have great role models!

janell said...

I don't know you. In fact I was searching for a particular running article and your page came up. I read your post and thought how awesome it is when one can find words to elucidate the 'beautifully insane addiction' we runners have! I think God created a bit of heaven on earth for us runners... something that words aim to grasp yet barely touch. Ciao!

Anonymous said...

I went looking for your shirts. This was a much better find, by far. As is typical, an encounter with 'squatch leaves me wanting to be more than I currently am. Meant that on multiple levels: writer, runner, mother, sister, daughter... Stunning tribute to your family.