This little phrase, which became popular among runners when the modern resurgence of long distance running began in the 1970’s, actually came from a short story written in 1959. It was the story of a poor English boy who used running to deal with the dismal life he had.
When I started my run at the Arboretum this evening it was the first thing that I thought about. I’m not sure that running alone is automatically lonely; sometimes it is meditative; sometimes it is therapeutic; sometimes it is just something you do because it is training. I was hopeful that I would meet someone else there and when I pulled into the parking area, there was a runner in the car already parked. But that runner pulled out having finished their run. Then I saw a runner coming but that runner didn’t stop – not a Peace Trotter. I waited until 5:25, made a running plan and took off. That is when I thought of the short story. And I felt lonely. So come on people-
Tom’s feeling lonely, let’s keep him company.
Then I thought of Alberto Salazar, A Cuban-American professional and Olympic runner. Salazar was well known for his philosophy of running with injuries, running through injuries and ignoring injuries. He reckoned that if training for 120 miles a week produced certain results, then running for 180 or 200 miles a week would produce 50% better results.
Well, sure enough, part way through the run, my left leg started aching and cramping. I thought to myself, this thinking about loneliness and extreme training is going to be the death of me this evening. I had struggled through the winter with an aching, nervy left leg. But I had gotten through that and this was a surprise. So I started trying all the things runners try when some part of their body is rebelling. We Christians pray about it. Hmm, that worked for a few minutes. Focus on the injury, give it attention and breathe into it. That actually works with stomach cramps. Not so much with legs.
The thing about running is that you can always stop and walk. Mostly, you’re the only judge of yourself. I tried that briefly but it didn’t help. So then I’m thinking, “You know what if it’s a bad, bad injury sooner or later you’ll just take a step on your left foot, you’ll fall down and that would be that.” And if that happened, “It’s just pain and you’ll just feel what it’s like for now and then it will be over.” Then I had a novel thought; my right leg; in fact the whole right side of my body feels great. It’s really strong. That part of me is just going to take over and finish this run. And it did. It pulled my left side along, which felt like it was limping, but when I looked, my left stride just looked normal.
Later I thought about the story in Matthew’s gospel that “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell.” But that didn’t make any sense either.
So there you go, you never know what will happen when you go running. Doesn’t it sound like fun!