Not Self-Righteous Pricks: In Defense of the Runner

My husband and I have a joke: when I get back from a long run, he asks, “So, how much more righteous are you than me because of your run?” And I laugh, “Honey, I was completely more righteous than you when I got up at 6 am!”    We laugh;  both being Law/Gospel theologians, we know righteousness is only imputed to us by Christ and faith in Him. Nonetheless, truth lingers in the joke: runners have a bad rap; we’re often viewed as self-righteous pricks.

Yes, I’m sure there’s been that runner somewhere who rightfully earned said title of self-righteous prick, but I’ve never met him…or her and I know a lot of runners. Unicorn! So, I’ve no choice but believe that most of us (maybe even all?) are mislabeled and radically misunderstood. We are just runners out running and rarely are we running and thinking, Man, I’m so damn awesome..too bad that sucker over there isn’t more like me.  I mean, seriously, I’ve never had that thought and those whom I know–who are also runners, even competitively so–don’t think that way either. We’re just running, minding our own business, our footsteps, and oncoming traffic. “Other People” and any comparison to said “other people”–in terms of awesomeness and righteousness–falls in to the very distant background, especially when we’re facing mile 3 of a 14 mile long run. Oh, Good Lord, do I really have 11 more?…i think I may die…let’s burn this candle!

Too many times I’ve either heard in casual conversation or read in blog-posts that all of us runners are out to achieve our righteousness, that we give head nods to each other as we pass each other because we both know what we are really doing out on the road at 6am. And the later part of that statement is true, we do know what we are out doing but it’s FAR FROM trying to run to achieve righteousness. Runners know how fleeting (like sand through your fingers fleeting) trying to hold on to a sense of righteousness from running is.  So, we’re not running toward righteousness; rather, what is more likely is that we’re running from our unrighteousness, from our failures, from our emotional and spiritual turmoil and pain. We’re running at all times of the day and in degrees varying from 0-95 because that small scope of time while we’re out running is a reprieve from the things that haunt us present, past, and future. The head nod to another runner at 6am is the head nod of camaraderie, camaraderie of brokenness.  You, too? Yeah, me too. 

More often than not, when I get to know another runner, there is something in their past that jump started the running, something bad, something painful, something that altered their lives in a radical way. For me, running blossomed as a way to deal with the pain and suffering from being sexually assaulted. When I initially tried to self-destruct, I was eventually turned toward running, and running gave me that break from my pain that I needed. As my foot hit the ground and pulled my body forward, I felt the strength of the body God gave me, a body that is good, that is loved and not horrible and only fit for abuse. In that moment where I defied gravity and both feet flew through the air, I was weightless and I was flying, not burdened and weighed down. For those few moments, through those  many movements of my body, I did feel God’s pleasure…not because I was running, but because everything else in my cacophonous head was silenced long enough for me to sense it and feel it. Many of us runners have stories: stories of pain, abandonment, sorrow, grief, and loss  (in all their varying forms), and the backbone of our addiction and love of running stems from the very respite from those stories and current ones by getting picked up and carried away…even if  for only 30 minutes.

Far from being self-righteous pricks, most of us runners (all of the runners I know) are compassionate people who understand on a visceral level the limitations and brokenness and failure of the human body and mind. Running is our lover, yet we are more than aware that she is a very fickle one.  Just a few days of not running and our mile times drop. Too many  miles too fast will cause our joints to remind us the next day that we’re all too human. We’ll train for a race and bomb it…damn. We lose toe nails and gain blisters, neither one deterring nor hindering our running…because we’re addicts, and we know it. We understand the importance of community; we carry each other with words of encouragement and cheers and celebration for a long run well done…ah, heck, even if it’s just 3 miles…Way to go!!  Plus, no one else fully gets a runner like another runner (insert head nod here), so we runners kind of need each other, that’s why we can be clique-ish and why we speak a language that seems foreign to so many others, and if we need to apologize for anything it’s probably that. So: we’re sorry. (But here’s a website to help you translate our running lingo; you’ve now been sufficiently informed.)

We also love you, our non-running friend. There’s very little if any judgment towards you for not running because we are–if we’re honest–saving all of our judgment for ourselves and our slack-ass mile times. And, at least for me, sometimes I envy you my non-running friend, because you don’t look crazy at 5 in the morning running with 18,000 blinking lights and bedecked in safety green reflective material like some sort of whacked out neon Christmas tree. You’re sleeping like any sane person should at 5 in the morning; but as a runner, I’m not that sane so sometimes I’m jealous of your slumber and sanity.

So now you know. Now you know that we’re not self-righteous pricks, but fellow broken human beings, taking one step at a time just like you…albeit sometimes our steps are just quicker and well lit.





Run to the Dawn

So, I run. It’s dark but I run. I can’t see, but I still run.  The alarm goes off, I get up, get my things, lace up my shoes, and run.  I can’t not run. I run because I’m drawn to run. I run because the running calls me; it calls to my legs, it calls to my body, it calls to my mind, it calls to my heart. The street is calling, beckoning, exhorting…run.

So I run; in the dark, I run. There’s nothing more than a few lamp posts casting their scant illumination on the dark pavement just ahead of my steps.  I feel that I’m chasing these brief moments of light. I catch one, it moves behind me; on to the next patch of light.

I run through the dark. I run through the dark on streets that have no moments of illumination. I run these streets that I know from the day. I know these streets like the back of my hand.  But they’re so different in the dark. In the dark, I’ve forgotten many of the nooks and crannies seeming to hide in wait for my foot. I run trying to recall this manhole, this speed bump, that broken curb. More than I like, I dodge, last minute, the things I see almost too late. In the day, I would’ve seen it from feet away; but in the dark…Lauren be nibble, Lauren be quick…

But I run through the dark. The brisk cool air and the hope for the dawn energizing my steps. Every breath a small sign of life; every breath a small prayer. I run through the dark, left foot, right; left foot, right…my legs carry me forward on to streets that, in the daytime, are familiar, but, now are strange, winding mazes of pavement, concrete, and asphalt.

And I keep running. I pass houses and cars still slumbering. My eyes wander left and right catching fleeting glimpses of these sleeping giants; I’m momentarily jealous. But my legs keep carrying me forward, and I am forced to refocus my gaze ahead; my environment demands my focus, the streets remind me…stay focused, Lauren, stay focused…

And then it happens. As if out of nowhere: dawn breaks. The burgeoning sun to the east lights the road completely with ease. The initial low light grows and grows and soon everything is illuminated: the knotty tree branches, the varying colors of cars, the rectangular shapes of houses, the delicate blades of grass. The light touches me, toes first and creeps up to my upward tilted head. Dawn’s light warms my face. I can see my finish line; it is within a stride’s mere distance.

And I stop. I’m embraced by light and warmth. I’ve run to the dawn.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1-2