by Ben Heller
Ben and Jeremy McNamara
I can’t decide how to structure these thoughts I want to share with you. There is so much on my mind as these thoughts come together, just like the start of the Boston Marathon, with all of these thoughts crowded into a narrow street, pushing and shoving to become the words that I type. If someone reading these thoughts can reexamine something in their own life, and maybe find some hope, inspiration, or some solace, then my words have done well. It is all I can hope for.
I write these words, reflecting on a journey I have been on towards personal growth, and trying to be the best person I can be. I look around our world, and I see a lot of people who have been wounded by life, or by circumstances outside of their control. I see the world lashing out at itself constantly with vigor. Even in our community, I look around (less and less), and see tongues lashing sharply against each other, mostly in the protected realm of social media. Perhaps it is the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant that inspires me to write these words, but our time here is precious, and it can end in a blink of an eye. We are not even promised our next minute on this earth! There is no guarantee that this limited time we are here is all that we get in our entirety of existence. There is also no guarantee that you will be able to run tomorrow, for your fate might be to lose that ability at a moment’s notice as well.
Let me start this by describing how warped my own relationship has been with running. I have spent most of my running career obsessed with setting a new PR, beating that athlete that might have rubbed me the wrong way or gotten the best of me in a race. I even used to think about having my gravestone inscribed with “Ben Heller broke three hours in a marathon and broke an hour and 20 minutes in a half marathon.” I kind of joke about it, but there is something important in that thought. When we pass (and I hate to bring this up, but we all will, and there is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable) will anyone really care at our funerals about the PR’s we set at ”x” race or at “x” distance? Maybe someone will mention it, but what will leave a real impact is the kind of person you were in the race of life. Were you kind to your fellow persons? Were you someone who lived a life of vengeance, or a life of healing? Were you someone people could respect because you kept a high character, or were you someone people put up with because you were petty and braggadocious? Did you bring lightness or darkness into this world during your time here?
I came to the unpleasant conclusion in the past few months that in the race of life I was far behind where I wanted to be. I was straggling in the back of the field, as opposed to chasing the lead pack. There is no shame in that revelation, but if I can go from a straggler to a lead packer(ish) in terms of running ability, then why can’t I make progress in the race of life? Why can’t you, the person who is reading this article, and maybe feeling the same way I felt, make a surge into gaining a better position in life, into adopting healthier behaviors, and developing a kinder and more loving outlook in this world we inhabit?
In the preceding words I was just being open and honest about several shortcomings and painful realities I have faced recently. There is hope, a hope that can carry me and the rest of us through to a better position in the race of life. Many of the antidotes are conveniently enough found within the sport and practice of running. The principles that align us with running can carry us through any of life’s challenges. It might seem silly to read those words, but if I believe anything in my being, it’s that what we apply to running can apply to every aspect of life. Think about it -- what does it take to find success in running? Several traits or behaviors, whatever you want to call them, allow us to cross the finish line. If these articles become a series, I would like to discuss some of the traits associated with running and how they can be used in other avenues outside of the sport.
The first trait that comes to mind is discipline. Do any of us want to lace up when the temperature is 15 degrees, the roads are icy, and the wind is smacking us in the face? Of course we don’t. We would rather stay home, have some soup and relax. But we do it anyway. If you have the discipline to lace up, to push yourself in unpleasant circumstances, what about in real life? On paper are there many activities harder than pushing your own physical limits in a race, at whatever fitness level and distance. When your body is screaming at you to provide some relief, to quit, you still go on and push through all the way to that glorious finish line, where you can finally exhale.
If you can finish a race, then you can direct that same discipline to tackle other challenges that you face in your existence. Maybe you need to become more financially savvy, maybe you need to repair and reconcile relationships, maybe you need to chart a new course in your professional career, maybe you need to improve your parenting skills. Whatever the challenge you feel you need to face, that running discipline can carry you a long way. When you feel like giving up and making excuses, I want you ASK THIS QUESTION. If I can do it for running, why can’t I do it for “x”?
For me right now that “x” is giving up alcohol. The temptation to drink and partake is all around me all the time. Yet alcohol is poison for me. It tempts my mental illness and depression and creates a toxic sludge with the medications I take. Nothing is as refreshing as a cold beer after a hard workout, but for me it comes with an extra heavy price. When that temptation strikes, I must lean on that same discipline to decline the beer, knowing that if I have the discipline to go from an obese guy to a sub three-hour marathoner, then I can say no to a beer. I am only a few weeks into my sobriety, but I find myself leaning heavily on that running discipline to carry me through the valley of temptation. You too can lean on running discipline to propel you to wherever you want to be.
At some point we will all cross the ultimate finish line in this race of life. When you are speeding to the line, knowing that you are on your last breaths, you will want to know that you were a lead-pack person, and not a straggler. You will want to look back at the time you spent in this sport with contentment that you made the most of your precious time, not regret that you let negative behaviors poison your relationship with running and life. When you exhale for the last time, you want to have your spirit raised up in an embrace, just like when you had a PR at your goal race!