Runners who inspire

Last month I came across an article about a man who had recently won a marathon. I’m not sure which is more surprising – that he did so while pushing his six-year-old daughter in a stroller, or that he did it despite suffering from terminal brain cancer.

Iram Leon sometimes gets disoriented during a race, vomits, or blacks out. But he runs because “When I’m in a race, when I’m climbing a hill, for a few moments it feels like I’m pulling ahead of my problems.”

Another inspiring runner is Anne Mahlum, who was the closing speaker at the software conference I attended recently in Philadelphia. She had started running as a teenager, and found that it helped her get through a difficult time in her life.

Ten years later, she got the idea to start a running club for some homeless men, after several days of exchanging brief greetings with them as she ran by them. People told her that homeless people don’t run, but the men who joined her club disproved that claim.

They didn’t just run; they gained confidence in themselves as a result. Their changed attitudes helped them get “back on their feet” in terms of jobs and self-sufficiency.

Today, Back on My Feet is a national organization with ten chapters around the country, and has helped hundreds of people move from homelessness and hopelessness to employment, housing, health, and hope for the future.

A year ago, I might have been skeptical about benefits of running outside of cardiovascular conditioning. I had run when I was in my twenties, and completed a 10K race, but not long after that I gave up running because I kept getting shin splints. I liked running when I had companions to run with, but it wasn’t much fun to run alone.

Then last spring, members of our department at work were challenged to train for a 5K race. Again, I chose to do it more for the companionship of running with friends and colleagues than for the running itself. I really wasn’t sure I even could run five kilometers (walking was allowed, so I knew I could participate regardless).

I had no plans to keep training once the race was over. But finishing that race – without slowing to a walk partway through – gave me such a sense of accomplishment that I made up my mind to keep training and try to have a better time in this year’s race.

I don’t get the feeling that “I’m pulling ahead of my problems” when I run. When I’m climbing a hill all I can think about is taking the next step, taking the next breath. But no matter how tired I feel, I know that I can keep going, and there is a great deal of satisfaction in doing so.

There are a lot of things in life that I can’t do anything about, and other things that I can do something but I’m not sure how well. I certainly can’t say I’m a fast runner – far from it. But I can keep going, just by choosing to. And that makes me want to keep doing it.

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