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Joy, Pain, and Mortality or “Why I Run”

Matt Ragnar Run
Jess asked me to do a write up of our Expedition Everest race to close out the blogs on our Walt Disney World trip, and I will, but this is not that blog. Rather this stems from a confluence of recent events and long time activities that have been rattling around in my head and finally found a place to fall out.

I’ve often been asked a simple question, and it’s one that I’ve had a hard time answering up until now (at least in depth). That question is “Why?” though the implied ending is “are you putting yourself through that?” It generally comes after I inform someone that I’ve just got back from/am about to go out on/or need to go home so I can go out for my next training run. I usually give a standard, half-joking response, “Because I’m dumb.” (Actually, it’s a fully accurate response when I come back from my longer runs, but that’s not important.)

A recent event has caused me to really think about this topic, and to try and convey what I feel and why I do what I do. While walking from our Sunday volleyball games back to church, which requires traversing about a quarter of a mile of twisting, mountain-side road with little to no shoulder of which to speak, two of our ladies were struck by a passing motorcyclist. While one of the ladies and the motorcyclist managed to walk away with some treatment, the other lady is currently hospitalized in critical, but stable, condition, suffering a punctured lung, fractured skull, and a myriad of other injuries. Jess and I had already left to attend birthday festivities for my father before this happened, and so had only heard of this later via text message, whereas we normally would have still been there. After much waiting and evaluating, it appears that the young lady is on the (extremely) long road to recovery, with hopefully minimal complications (though I doubt they would refuse any additional prayer further requesting healing).

So beginning my run on Monday night, having just begun to process all this information from the previous 24 hours, it occurred to me just how good it felt to be ABLE to run. The distance didn’t matter, the pain melted away; my breathing, labored, but sustaining; each step forward bringing me closer to a goal that would matter to no one but myself. And it was over the course of four and a half miles (okay, distance matters a little) that I realized why I run.

I run because at the beginning of tenth grade, an announcement was made at the beginning of school that would change my life. Having waited until the spring of my freshman year of high school to try out for the school’s baseball team (baseball having always been my first love), and failing to make it, I had no idea what sport, if any, I would pursue for my high school career. I wish I knew what possessed me to respond to the announcement that, yes, I too could participate in long distance running as an athletic endeavor. For it was Cross Country that fed into Track, ensuring a yearlong fitness regimen which is probably why I graduated high school at just north of 150 pounds. And it was these sports that allowed me to build and strengthen lasting bonds, whether it was the countless hours Stephen and I got to talk together and lay the ground work for our epic friendship, or the introduction to the man who coached Track (and Senior year Cross Country), who I would later catch up with when he and his wife (with whom I also had the honor of running) while they were undergoing the soul ravaging process of slowly losing a child to cancer, and they both demonstrated such courage, character, and authenticity that I am truly honored to have gotten the chance to know them. I run at times for them, and I always run because of them.

I run because at the end of 2008, I was pushing 250 pounds and not happy about it. While I tried to keep up with running when I first left high school, and even took a couple classes in college, eventually the habit faded and I settled into life. A love for food (and people who did a great job making it, thanks Dad and Jess!) and easy access to fast food, along with a programmer’s schedule of classes, led to quick and easy weight gain. When I finally realized I needed to change, the first thing I thought of was to resume my running, as I had been trying to on and off for the past several years. I had just finished my Master’s Degree, so I had more free time, and all I needed was a goal to motivate me. I set the loose goal of running the LA Marathon before I was 30, with a definitive goal of running the Disneyland half marathon in September 2009. Since my rebirth I have run the Disney half marathon, the LA Marathon in March (exactly two months before my 30th birthday), a twelve person, 200 mile relay called Ragnar, and the Expedition Everest 5K and scavenger hunt at Walt Disney World. I have 2 to 4 more races planned before the end of the year, as I have found if I don’t have a goal, I start to backslide into bad habits. I run to make sure I have at least one good habit.

I run for the solitude. In a world where we are all interconnected and have five different ways to be contacted at all times, it feels good to unplug and get away for a little while. I’ll admit, I’m one of those people who is uncomfortable running without music, but since I have an iPod nano and not an iPhone, I don’t have to worry about phone calls. There is something refreshing about having a pair of shoes as the only requirements to go enjoy an activity. At heart I have always been somewhat of a loner, and the complexities of relationships and the world at large can’t follow me when I’m running. I run because sometimes it’s the only way to get away.

I run for camaraderie. Yes, these two paragraphs are adjacent on purpose. While a majority of my running currently takes place solo, all of my formative runs were always with other people. As Jess can attest to when we ran the Expedition Everest 5k (a story for that aforementioned other post), I get a little extra juice when around other runners. Running the Ragnar Relay with 11 other crazy people (12 if you count our fantastic driver) over a two day period was easily one of the highlights of the year so far. There is an electricity at a race that encourages you to do your best, and push yourself harder than you normally would. This works against me too, as I tend to go out too fast and wear myself out early, but I have a blast doing so. I run because my fellow runners sustain me.

I run because I can. As the past week has so brutally demonstrated to me, one never knows what is in store. There are many things that can stop me from running, and I will not allow my laziness to be the only thing that prevented me from going on my most recent run. I broke my foot several years ago, and the inability to perform even the most mundane of tasks without major help was beyond frustrating. I can’t imagine having to rehab from a more serious injury for a longer period of time. I realize now, though, that the mental discipline I’ve developed from running is exactly what will get me through that kind of situation. I run because it makes me a better person.

At this point, and I promise I’m wrapping up right now, you’re probably in one of three places: vindicated (if you’re a fellow runner or active person), guilty (sorry), or dismissive (okay). I realize running is not for everyone, and this post wasn’t intended to brow beat anyone into going out for mile tomorrow (if you do, start small, just walk around the block or go for a light jog, work up slowly). Here is what I want you to take away from this – go find your running. If you already know the activity that provides you with all the benefits that running provides me, go do it, because you don’t know when you won’t be able to again.

At the very least, I intended this post to be a look into my heart and mind to share with you something I enjoy. While running may bring me joy, it also incurs a cost of pain, and has the power to both forestall and hasten my mortality. Each step brings me closer to something, and, while I don’t know what it is, I will eternally appreciate the journey.

Posted in Matt General.

3 Responses

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  1. maureen said

    beautifully written Matthew, gives me deeper insight into my precious grandson. Keep up the good work, physically, mentally and spiritually. We are so proud of you. Love Nana

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Inspiration or “What I love to do” – Only Two People Blog linked to this post on February 20, 2011

    […] a part of the author’s soul, and it has long been my desire to be completely transparent. Maybe why I run, or what inspires me to write is not interesting to everyone, but for those that care and want to […]

  2. 2012-366 Day 48 – Running – Only Two People Blog linked to this post on February 17, 2012

    […] race, so I might do that one too). I’ll use this opportunity to point you to my original article on running, which I wrote over a year and a half ago (and about 3 weeks before the beginning of the events […]

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