Running was my first true love. It was the first thing that had ever made me feel like my life had meaning. Running was what made me realize that there were beautiful things to be discovered, there were reasons to work hard and push myself to my limits, and reasons to test my strength and stamina. For the time I was running, I felt completely untouchable. My head was clear and no goal was unreachable. I didn’t have to rely on anything or anyone but my own strength, both of body and of mind. Running was life.
The injuries that kept me from competing were crushing. Both of my legs sustained injuries that kept me from achieving my goal to run in college. Broken bones, torn ligaments and tendons, surgeries, screws and scars left my legs weak and my spirits shattered. I mourned the loss of running like I’d lost my best friend.
The body is a resilient thing. Severed ligaments can be regrown, broken bones can be mended. Broken dreams, however, can rarely be repaired. In time, my motivation was redirected, new talents were discovered, and new dreams flourished. But you never forget your first love. Running was a dream that I believed could never be repaired. Those goals could never be touched again. The pain of losing my dream of running in college was more crippling than the pain my injuries had left behind.
One hundred miles in one hundred days. That was the goal I had set for myself after not having run consistently in approximately eight years. I’d tried and failed more times than I could count. It hurt my legs to run. But what hurt more was the thought of what could have been. Why resurrect a dead dream when the end result could never be what I’d always strived for? I would end up with a warped version of my old dream that was sure to disappoint. I’d lost my shot at running in college. What more could running do for me now?
As it turns out, there’s always something to be learned from broken dreams. You also never forget your first love. It seems the love will never truly go away; in an instant it can be reawakened and nursed back to health, coming back as strong as ever.
I started small: one mile in one day. It was one mile, who couldn’t do that? It was hard, nevertheless, and I ignored the time it took me to complete, which was nearly 4 minutes more than what I used to run. But that was then. I was starting over, so I’d set new goals for myself. Anything short of quitting was a win. As long as I could finish, I would be proud. I ran one mile a day for a week and a half straight. Already, I’d probably run more in a week and a half than I had in the past eight years combined. It was just a mile at a time, but I was still winning, because I was doing it.
One day, one mile turned into two. And two miles soon turned to three and four. New distances meant new goals. They also meant new struggles, new pain, and new achievements. I’d forgotten how much the pain was worth it. How it felt to push through aching muscles and sore joints, and knowing that my body had a little more to give despite my mind telling me to quit. I’d forgotten the feeling of pacing myself, of steadying my breathing when it seemed out of control. I’d forgotten what the good kind of sore felt like: the constant reminder that I am stronger than I know.
I’d never thought that competing with myself could be as satisfying as competing with other runners. But with every new mile I began on my journey to one hundred, I saw myself surpassing boundaries I never thought I could cross again. I began closing the Great Divide that stood between me and the things in life that felt unreachable. I could feel myself growing stronger with every stride, and withstanding pain and pressure that had once seemed too great to overcome. I realized that recovery was as much a mind game as anything else. When I began to win the war against my mind whose greatest weapon was telling me “I can’t,” I began to notice all the other things that I’d told myself were unattainable that now very well seemed possible.
In one hundred days, I transformed my body and my mind. There were muscles that had resurfaced that I didn’t even remember having. The lower back pain I’d been having for over four years completely subsided. I no longer became winded after climbing steps, and it began taking longer and longer to work my heart rate up with typical physical activities. I was getting faster and faster each time that I ran. My clothes fit better, my head was clearer, I felt overall healthier. Not only that, but I noticed a significant change in the amount of stress I carried. I was calmer, more relaxed, and happier overall. In one hundred days, I was a new person.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my journey to one hundred was also hard. There were days where I was tired, where my body ached, where my muscles cramped and my joints felt ancient. There were days that I had to force myself to run by putting my running clothes and shoes on and hoping that it would make me feel obligated to do so. There were days that were so busy that it didn’t even cross my mind. Times where I was too hungry after work to even think about anything but eating. Days where I was running in rain, in the scorching sun or in the cold, or racing the setting sun so that I wouldn’t be running after dark. Sometimes there would be stabbing pain in my legs reminding me of my old, forgotten injuries. My right foot would often go numb on the third mile, an ailment that plagued me in my prior running days just before the injury had reached the point of necessary surgical repair. Sometimes, when I was finished, I was left wondering just how much longer I’d be able to continue running before losing it again to injury.
Just after my second surgery, I remember deciding to finally give up on my love for running. In a little over a year, I’d had reconstructive surgery done on both of my legs. I’d missed out on competing my junior and senior years of high school, the most vital years in a young runner’s competitive life. The doctors told me that with the combination of injuries I’d had, my chances of ever running vigorously again were slim. In fact, with just the injuries I’d needed repaired with my first surgery, they had told me that at least half of people needing the same kind of surgery never run competitively just because of pain. Then if you factored in the new injuries and new surgery, I definitely had significant odds stacked against me. But as it turns out, regardless of what people say, or what I think, or what my emotions are telling me, I control my own odds.
I’ve chosen not to abandon old dreams. I’ve decided that I’m stronger than I think. I’ve decided to believe that I can. And I have. And I will continue to. Running might have been my first love, but it certainly won’t be my last. And in choosing not to give up on my first love, I’ve chosen not to give up on anything I love now or will love in the future. The hundred miles represented so much more than just an old dream. It was so much more than just running. It was my chance to prove to myself that I could still accomplish anything I had the passion to accomplish. It was a journey to discover just how strong I really was. It was about motivation and endurance, living well and enjoying the life and good health that I had. It was a constant reminder that obstacles are worth overcoming, that struggling is part of life, but in the end it makes you more resilient. It was reassurance that there is Someone greater than the things of this world, who gives us the strength to do all things if we choose to trust in Him.
I used to believe that running was life. It was what kept me going, what inspired and moved me, and what gave my life meaning. It was also what broke me. Yet somehow, running is also what healed me in the end. I realize now that there’s much more to life than just chasing dreams, because if you put all you have into the chase and you never catch up, you’re left empty. You’ve not only lost your dream, but you’ve lost the excitement of the chase. The right motivation can turn any dream, no matter how small, into something more satisfying than you could ever imagine. Running isn’t life. But it’s a reminder of the things in life that are good. Who knew that by awakening an old dream, I would bring new dreams to life? Just one hundred days ago, I was wrestling with the possible and impossible. I was saying “I can’t” and conceding defeat. Little did I know, though, that it was only one hundred miles to healed.
“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:13