23 June 2010

Ten Years of Running

Chris D at The Lutheran Zephyr wrote a great blog post yesterday about getting back to running. Because of that post, I've been thinking about my own running journey, and this afternoon, during my run, I realized I've been doing this for over ten years. Ten years, and God only knows how many miles, shoes and sweat later, I'm still at it.

I was an athlete in high school, though not the running kind. I was a pretty good offensive tackle and threw the shot in track. Lifted lots of weights and even benched 300 lbs during football my senior year. But since I stopped growing at 5'11" or so, doing any kind of athletics at the University of Nebraska was out of the question - I was a few inches too short to play on the line, and far too slow to play anywhere else. Unfortunately, I kept eating like I was an athlete, and a few years later I had ballooned from 225 lbs to somewhere in the vicinity of 270 lbs. I ate, I smoked, I drank and I didn't exercise outside of the occasional church league volleyball and softball games. So, by the time I got to seminary, I was a pretty hefty boy.

Even so, I never really thought about my health all that much, and frankly, I started running because of FW. During our first year of marriage she enlisted in the Army Reserve, and we both started running; sometimes together, sometimes on our own. For me, it was pretty ugly at the start: jog a few minutes, walk a few minutes. Heart pounding, sweat coursing down my face, but at the same time, feeling really good. I didn't lose a lot of weight at first, but I started feeling better very quickly. Luther Seminary is located right next to St. Anthony Park, one of the more picturesque neighborhoods of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, and I took advantage of it, developing routes that would take me past some of the most beautiful houses in the area. It was especially nice in the autumn months - running through drifts of blazing orange, red and even violet with that crisp air in my lungs made me glad to be running. Between pounding out the miles around my parents' farm that first summer while doing CPE in nearby Sioux City, IA and foraging farther and farther afield when I got back to Luther, I eventually did start losing a little weight and feeling as though I was actually someone you'd call a "runner." It was a great feeling.

When FW and I separated during my internship in Titusville, FL, running was one of the primary ways I tried to cope with the emotional turbulence of the time. I ran almost every day, cut out a lot of the awful foods I'd been eating, and the pounds just melted away. I eventually dropped to under 200 lbs for the first time since my sophomore year of high school, and people got nervous. But at the time I was probably running between 30 and 40 miles a week, which burns a LOT of calories. I was putting in some good times, too, for a former nose tackle - in those days, I RAN when I ran. When I went to California to try and make things work with FW, I ran. When things didn't work and I went back to seminary, I ran. When Beloved and I started dating and I started spending time with her and her family, I ran. When I was called to be a pastor in Barrett, MN, I ran around the lake, around town, out into the country, wherever it felt like I ought to be running. It was genuinely a part of who I was.

A few weeks after my Grandma Johnson's death in 2006, I was diagnosed with mild depression, and as a means of doing something crazy to break out of the funk, I entered the Fargo Marathon. I downloaded a training program from Runner's World and followed it pretty closely, including my 20 mile long run that I completed in four five-mile loops on an awful, rainy Saturday in early April. I ran the marathon and had a blast, finishing in 4:35. I remember thinking, "this is fun - I could totally do this in under four hours, though."

Heh - what did I know? You see this picture of me and Beloved after that first marathon? I'm smiling because I'm feeling awesome. (Okay, actually, at this point I couldn't feel my face, and I had to go get an IV about 5 minutes later because I started slurring my words and almost fell down, but I still felt AWESOME for finishing a marathon) She's smiling because she's pregnant with Ainsley, and she's going to tell me two days later, after confirming it with her doctor. Hello, new priorities: goodbye, carefree 4-milers whenever I can lace up my shoes.

As far as running goes, the last four years have been Heartbreak Hill: miserable, soul-crushing, uphill and a daunting challenge that never seems to end. It's not all due to the addition of the Sisters: my body is catching up with me, and it's been harder and harder to keep myself in running shape. Back problems, foot problems, sleep deprivation and, most of all, parental responsibilities have combined to make any kind of consistent exercise difficult to accomplish. I've swelled back up to 230 lbs, and for every run that feels great, I often have to fight through two that feel like running through quik-dry concrete. I am absolutely not complaining about being a parent here: it's just that making the right choice has had consequences about which I'm not particularly thrilled.

However, things seem to be changing of late. As Ainsley and Alanna grow older, I don't feel quite so guilty asking Beloved for time to go running. In the last month especially, as Alanna begins to learn to talk and, therefore, becomes far less exhausting to parent, we're both finding time to get out and be physical, to walk and run and mow the lawn (with a reel mower, not a motored mower) and work on the yard and do some of the things you can't do with an infant underfoot. Best of all, the girls are getting into the act. If they see me in shorts and my trusty adidas Supernovas they ask, "Are you going on a run, Daddy?" And they seem excited by the prospect. Kristin says when they see me out running on their way back from preschool or the gym, they scream with delight from their car seats. So I ask myself, "if they think I'm a runner, who am I to act otherwise?"

In 2008 I ran Grandma's Marathon in Duluth with very little training. I basically gutted out a 4:39 I had no business achieving. This year, I'm going to run the Des Moines Marathon in October, and for the first time since before Alanna was born, I'm excited to be working toward a running goal. True, things are different now than they were ten years ago, but I'm still eating miles, and whether I slog through a terrible tempo run like I did today or fly through a great easy 3-miler like I did on Monday, I'm still a runner - and I hope that ten years from now I'll be able to say the same thing again.

Grace & peace,


  1. Wow ... what a great story. Very encouraging, very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reading your description of your high school and college self, I felt like I was reading my own bio. No longer an offensive tackle either, I'm back to training with running and cycling. I alternate days. Been at it for three full months and have dropped 30 lbs. I also like to see the other side of 200 since my sophomore year in high school.

  3. I loved this post Scott. I ran the Chicago Half Marathon (my first) when I was one week pregnant with Miss Adah (and didn't know it). I haven't really run since, opting for "other" option workouts during pregnancy. Now that she is here and we're settling into a routine, it makes me crazy that I can't follow my old workout routine...crazy! Another lesson for me, but the end of your story gave me hope that I'll be able to get back at it, in some way, shape or form, someday. :)