I was twenty-three the first time I truly realized my own mortality. It was early morning, and I was lying on my makeshift bed on the floor of my apartment in tiny Zavet, Bulgaria, where I served for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, when it occurred to me that someday my life will be over. Of course this was not new information; I had been fully aware of the inevitability of death on a superficial level for at least fourteen years since I lost my beloved grandpa when I was nine. On this particular morning, however, it really sank in deeply that my time on this earth is limited, and that one day, I will simply be… gone. It was a surreal moment, one that stayed with me for days, even weeks, afterwards, but not in a depressing way. It was simply another inescapable fact of life, which upon sincerely comprehending caused me never again to think of time in the same way as I had before.
A friend of mine told me recently that the great thing about time is that it never stops, and that with every passing moment, we are that much closer to where we want to be: closer to the weekend, closer to the end of a rough patch, closer to reaching our goals, and presumably closer to finding happiness. Thinking of time in this way put a little spring in my stride… until of course it also struck me that while every tick of the clock may indeed be bringing me closer to where I want to be in my life, it is also bringing me closer to the day when it’s all over. Not a thought I want to mull over for too long.
What my friend was trying to say is that we so often unjustly view time as the enemy, dragging on for an eternity when we are anticipating the next stage in our lives and disappearing at an alarming rate when we need it the most. So often we blame time- or lack thereof- for our inefficiencies, our failures, and for not doing the things we’d really love to do, yet we forget how time allows us the opportunity to ruminate, heal ourselves, and change our course.
In running, time is often pared down to its most literal sense. We race against the clock in an attempt to run a personal record or to test our ability to sustain anaerobic threshold pace for a couple of minutes longer than we did last week. Training for months to shave a few seconds off a 5K or a minute off a marathon merits huge pats on the back and leaves many of our non-running friends questioning our sanity, or at the very least, our priorities. I cannot remember the last time I intentionally ran without my watch or didn’t bother to figure out my exact distance so that I could calculate my mile pace down to the second. Most runners I know are similarly obsessive about recording their workouts because time is often our basis for tracking progress.
But it was when I began to measure chunks of my life in “running time” that I realized that my concept of time had taken on a whole new meaning. Years ago, I had begun to think of time in terms of my workouts or races. Driving to the family cabin took one marathon; teaching my group of “tough” kids in the afternoon was a ten miler; a typical work day is equivalent to an Ironman bike ride (yes, I really am that slow), and so on. Operating on running time somehow makes everyday challenges more bearable. If I can run or bike for more than eight hours, surely I can make it through a stressful day at the office, right? But then I wonder… what about life’s tougher challenges, like the time it will take for me to feel comfortable in my new job? Or to rebound from a major mistake? To mend a broken heart? How many miles will that take? Will 62 miles be enough? Will training to run 62 miles be enough?
The typical response I get from most people when I mention my goal to run 100K is, “Why in the world would you ever want to do that? I wouldn’t want to drive that far.” Yeah, I wouldn’t want to drive that far either, because when I drive, I have to pay attention to the cars around me, the road signs, the traffic signals, my speed…. When I run, I can get lost in time and space, listen to the rhythm of my feet, and let my thoughts go wherever they may. When I run, nothing else matters, yet by the time I am finished, somehow everything is clearer. Running is my time for meditation, reflection, planning, mourning, recovering, and ultimately knowing that for those minutes or hours that I am running, time is on my side.
Thank you for reading!