On Risk

I just finished an amazing book. It’s not about running– it’s about life and the stories we’re telling and about really seizing each moment. It’s called, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” by Donald Miller and I hope you’ll read it. The gist is that we are all living a story and we need to figure out what makes movies and books and TV shows great and apply that to our lives– live intentionally with conflict and risk and fear so that what we do has meaning. It deeply affected me on more than one level. I laughed, I cried… it was awesome. And it’s not cheesy– it’s funny and real and mature.

I think I’ve said that I have a hard time expressing why the hell I’d wake up at 5, run a half marathon, throw up for 3 miles and then run 6 more. Or why I’d run 17 miles before work in the darkness to make sure that I get my mileage in. Or why I’d tell everyone that I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon when it’s a stretch to think I can run a 3:40 marathon. I’m not being self-deprecating here. My talent for running is minimal at best and it took me awhile to love it. But I think that’s why I love it– we often love things that we have to fight for and sacrifice and claw our way to the top. I don’t love bike riding the same as I love running and I actually have talent at bike riding– it comes easily which makes it feel cheap.

But this quote struck me and perfectly described why I’d do this:

It’s true that while ambition creates fear, it also creates the story. But it’s a good trade, because as soon as you point toward a horizon, life no longer feels meaningless. And suddenly there is risk in your story and a question about whether you’ll make it. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’d be lying if I said it was all fun. I definitely lost a few hours of sleep imagining myself collapsing on the Inca Trail, but it beat eating ice cream and watching television. I was doing something in real life. I’d stood up and pointed toward a horizon, and now I had to move, whether I wanted to or not.”

I’m taking a risk with CIM. I may fail. In fact, based on my workouts, the chances are high. But you know what? I’m tired of wimping out. I’m tired of settling for less than what I know I can do and for a mediocre effort because succeeding might be scary. How many times have I started a workout thinking, “there is no way that I can finish this. Or even start it. I’m not good enough, thin enough, have a VO2 max high enough or the talent to do it.” Well, that’s crap. I can do it. I’ve done it before and hopefully I’ll do it again. But the story I’m living and the narrative I want to tell includes running the Boston Marathon in my 20s. It includes crazy stories about waking up at 4:45, running 17 miles before work, throwing up during a race and still finishing and living to tell about it.

There was another quote (Don rode his bike cross country) that struck me: “I knew I had 50 more miles to go, and the miles would be, perhaps the most miserable of my life. But in that place, I remembered about the story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing. And I smiled. I’m not saying I was happy, bt for some reason I smiled. It hurts now, but I’ll love this memory, I thought to myself. And I do.”

So I guess what I’m saying is that you should be creating a story with your running. If someone wrote a book about your arc as a runner what would it say? Would it be an inspirational story about a girl who never thought she could run a mile who, for no particular reason at all, took up marathoning and ran the Boston Marathon? Is it the story of someone in their middle age who took up running to be a better friend, husband and father? Is it about running your first mile? 50 miler? Marathon? I don’t always want to get up early and run. I didn’t want to keep running after I threw up. I didn’t. When it was 102 out I wanted to stay home, eat ice cream and bury my head in my air conditioner. But I knew later I’d love the memory. What makes our stories great is their conflict and their grit. Don’t run away from the work– run until you puke, make the sacrifices and make it count. Because you’re going to appreciate the reward so much more if you give something up and put the work in. Don’t settle for less than you’re capable of and don’t be afraid to set a goal that might cause you to fail. Without risk our stories are lame and boring. I don’t want lame and boring. I want exciting, inspirational and dare I say it– epic.

Our lives need risk. We weren’t made to sit in cubes or offices all day, come home, zone out for 3 hours in front of the TV, go to bed and get up to do it again. Your story needs a risk and conflict and hurdles. Think of your favorite movies– are they about people who quit in the middle or never try something daring or new? Probably not. It’s scary and difficult and often a grind to get what we want. But I want to live. I don’t want to look back and think “gosh I could have done so much more with the time I have” or “if only I’d tried harder or risked more or trusted that there was more out there. ” I want to seize and try and fail gloriously and then get up and try again. And life’s about more than running. I think when we take risks with our racing and training that translates to other areas. It gives confidence and hutzpah and the determination to go after that promotion, relationship or scary situation. Surely if you can run 26.2 miles while feeling ill you can ask for a raise or a date or forgiveness.

I don’t mean to sound trite or preachy– these are issues and things I’m thinking through in my life– all aspects. But running is a nice lab to practice working hard and giving it my all. So I will. And I hope you will too. What are we waiting for?

Go write your story.

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6 responses to “On Risk

  1. Aww I loved this post and will definitely check out that book!

    I agree with you on why you love running so much, I NEVER was a runner and it took me a long time and a lot of hard work to get to where I am with my running today. I think THAT’S why I love it so much!!

  2. Thanks, I needed that this morning. More because I really was asking myself why I pound the pavement everyday. I don’t always love the run; infact, often times the first few miles are just crappy. But you are right, our story needs some depth, our story needs meaning, and at the end of all those difficult runs you find accomplishment and some self-worth.
    If what we were doing was easy, everyone would do it. I like the idea that our training and sacrafice is just adding to our own story. It does gives us the confidence to face other aspects in our lives.
    Thanks again for the post and the book recommendation. Have a good tuesday. 🙂

  3. This was truly an amazing and inspiring post. It makes you realize that it’s not just the love we have for running, but the love we have for the struggle. I may be a newbie, but I can appreciate that struggle in many many ways 🙂
    Thanks for this post and the book suggestion, you may have just convinced me to go out there and get my run in this weather …

  4. i am in love with this post 🙂 thank you for writing it!!! every word is so true.

  5. Love your post and it’s so very true. I think that’s how I felt Saturday right before my race…that’s why I told all my friends that I’d PR on Sunday in my half marathon because I was tired of not taking risks and not having lofty goals and by telling others, it would keep my accountable. And lo and behold I did! I think racing is all about taking calculated risks and putting yourself in a position to succeed. Without risks, there are only limits – limits that keep us from truly reaching our potential.

    I have a lofty goal for my next marathon, albiet slighly different than yours (BQ for you, Sub-3 for me) but I think our approach is similar. It is again a risk, a big one. But so what? I’ve trained hard like you have and have put myself out there day after day, mile after mile, sometimes questioning my sanity so I think I’m ready just like you will be when it is your time. As long as you prepared well and did all you could possibly do, whether you actually succeed or not becomes a bit secondary…

    Great post. I’ll be considering many of these thoughts again over the next couple of weeks.

  6. i LOVE love love this post!! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂 keep up the blogging

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