Why I Run, by Charlene Labenda
It cannot be—not yet! The sound continues, an annoying beeping sound, echoing and vibrating on the nightstand near my head. Saturday mornings should be calm, peaceful, even lazy, I think. I try to ignore it and return to a dream I can no longer remember. A few more seconds pass, and finally, without hesitation, I pop up from the soft down cradling my head and shut off the alarm. My husband opens one eye and mumbles “have a good run” then rolls back over, covers his head with a pillow, and returns to sleep as quickly as he awoke. Run is the last thing I want to do at this moment (or let me be honest and say most moments), but I do not waste another second. I have already risen a little too late and will need to hurry.
The next twenty minutes or so are fairly typical—gobble a bar or make a smoothie, drink some water, pull on my running clothes, brush my teeth, and knot my hair. No matter how quietly I sneak around the house my children still hear me. Now, added to my short list are pour two small bowls of Cheerios and cups of water until I can make a real breakfast when I return. Some days I have the luxury of catching a ride with one of my friends on the team. In that case, I plop myself on the bottom of my staircase and quietly wait. Minutes later, a minivan slows in front of my driveway, and I dash out the front door to join the others. When we reach the duck pond, there is a familiar bustle of cars approaching, women in flower-splattered shirts chatting, water bottles being deposited on benches, and our coach gathering the group for a warm-up jog.
Quickly, we move from stretches to a brief strength training circuit, and my body starts to awaken, not always in a pleasant way. The short walk to the start of the path is occasionally quiet and reflective and at other times boisterous with conversation and laughter. I see the first marker and wonder what lies ahead. Will my breathing be quick and heavy? Will my calves tighten and my shins wince when my foot hits the pavement? Or will I feel light and at ease? I start to run. It isn’t often that running feels good, not to me anyway. I listen to the sounds around me. My mind floods, images and thoughts weave in and out spinning a tangled, chaotic web. A dog barks. I concentrate on my breathing, trying to keep it even so I don’t find myself gasping for air. Thoughts return, scattered and unfocused, blurring the past and present. Concentrate. I keep my stride short and my cadence quick. My eyes briefly meet those of people passing me, and I wonder about them. Couples walking side by side. Bikers. Runners, alone and in groups. Others. If all is in my favor, I return having run three miles without incident and deeply inhale. I did it.
Why do I go to practice week after week? It’s simple. I go for me. For each of us that means something unique and personal. Some of our goals are common and shared, and some are not. But there is something, maybe only one thing, which reminds us why we joined the team. That is the thing that keeps us from shutting off the alarm, saying “I’ll go next week,” or from giving up completely. Being dedicated to something is not always easy. It is, rather, a never-ending struggle. We make that effort and continue to run for our health, to reach new goals, for the competition, for the friendship and camaraderie, to be inspired, and to overcome fear. Our lives are over-scheduled with work, school, our children’s countless activities, our homes, and social calendars. When do we do something for ourselves--for our bodies and our minds? My answer is Saturday mornings.
Choosing to do something that is not comfortable takes courage, a leap of faith. In doing so, I have discovered that we are part of something larger, something outside of ourselves and our own lives; we are part of a team. I was not a fan of sports growing up and stopped playing softball the minute I convinced my father that nothing made me more miserable than releasing the pitch and waiting for the strong girl with the bat to whack the ball right at me. The concept of a "team” was quite foreign. I quickly learned that the beauty of our team is that we are just a diverse group of women seeking to fulfill our needs, mutual and singular, together. None of us really know what is in the hearts of the others or why we remain committed. Yet with each call, text and e-mail, we remind each other why we joined--and that we are part of something. Part of a team. Then, all we have to do is...RUN.