Trusting in running and that the struggle will end

I was 15 years old and it was the middle of August. I sat on the grass with some friends behind the rear parking lot of South Carroll High School. We were waiting for cross country practice to start.

I didn't know much about running, but when I ran track the previous spring I discovered that I had some amount of ability. Sticking with it seemed like a good idea.


I spent most of high school in the shadow of a superstar, but finally began winning big races in my senior year. By the time I graduated, I had transformed myself from a dull and apprehensive boy into a more courageous young man.

It didn't last. After finishing high school at the height of my confidence, I moved on without direction. I went to a community college that had no cross country team, got lonely, and stopped going to class.

At 19, I was already a college dropout. I started running again because it was the only thing that made me feel good about myself.

I did all my runs alone for a while and jumped into races when I found them. But within a few years I was training with a talented group and winning many of the local races.

It was the high water mark of American distance running. The deepest roots of our history were planted in the era, in the years after Frank Shorter became an Olympic champion. Bill Rodgers, looking more like me than a world-class athlete, helped me dream of my own potential as he won four Boston and New York Marathons.

The local surge was a reflection of the national interest, so I had the chance to run with some of the best runners in the history of mid-Atlantic racing. I wanted to become one of them.

My first serious injury, and the knee surgery that followed, sidelined me for almost a year.

I was 26 when I began training seriously again. Having lived a year without it, I had a greater appreciation for the gift I was given. I became more disciplined in my training, ran fewer local events, and targeted a handful of larger races each year.

When I did race, I would ignore split times, partly out of fear, but also because I wanted to trust my capability. I'd cling to the shoulders of faster runners and hold on as long as I could.

I eventually found out just how good I was, which was both a blessing and a curse. I was fast, but not as fast as I wanted to be.

I don't know if it was a reason or an excuse, but I stopped competing when I became a father. It's true that I wanted to give as much time as possible to my kids, but I also wonder if I was letting myself off the hook. By then, I was sure my biggest dreams would never come true.

When I turned 40, old history didn't seem to matter as much, so I began running seriously again. It took about a year to remind my body what it could do, and then I rediscovered the joy of purposeful training and savored every race I won.

It's never seemed fair that I developed arthritis in my knee at 44. A second surgery did little to help, and the thin cartilage became something like a plague after that.

In more recent years, after working for years to get beyond the limitations of my knee, I've had recurring calf strains. Now, after periods of therapy and recovery, I've stopped and restarted more times than I can remember.


In my writing I've shared all the blessings that running has given me. I've told you about the self-confidence and the strength I've gained. I've described the emotional stability and the peaceful escape.

My life has been made fuller for having discovered these things, but they have always been byproducts of my more purposeful pursuits. In my heart, I am a competitor, and a person's heart is slow to change.

I'm 55, and about to take another break from running. My right calve seizes after less than a mile, and once it does, I'm left to finish with a limping walk.

It's getting harder to endure this cruel cycle. The ordeal requires more endurance than any training I've been through. It feels like I'm developing nothing more than patience, and even that isn't serving me well.

I loved the lessons running taught me early on. I learned the value of accountability and confidence. I was enlightened about my capability, how to achieve something I once couldn't imagine. Those were good times.

But I'm struggling with this lesson. What is the purpose of having a gift that I can't use?

All I can do it trust. Running has never failed me, even when I'm on the verge of failing it.

I was 15, exhausted, and straining to keep the lead until the finish line 50 meters ahead. I could hear cheering for the runner behind me and his footfalls getting closer. In the seconds that followed, running taught me something I need to embrace now.

Struggle ends. How it ends will be shaped with the faith we keep until it does.