It seems like so very long ago, I was a young man running the back roads, the sweat running into my eyes as I put in the miles. When I was a senior in high school, my home life wasn’t so great. I ended up moving out of my Mom’s house and in with my Sister and her husband. Unlike my Mom, they lived out on the edge of civilization, or so it seemed. There were two lane roads that seemed to go for ever without leading to anything. A runner could spend the afternoon or morning exploring them and enjoying the scenery. I enjoyed being able to run those quiet Midwest roads. It allowed me to get rid of the stress associated with being a poor kid with no future. A five mile run in the humid Midwest evening was a relief from the stresses we all seem to have to deal with. School, relationships, and money (or lack thereof). I found solace in the run. I found wisdom. I found the ability to cope. Strength. Running gave my life purpose. I was young and could run forever.
Then my life changed. I joined the military. Don’t get me wrong. The Air Force was a great career choice for a young man without a future and an economy that was stagnant at best. The military pointed me in a direction and I followed eagerly. I gave my life to the Air Force. I traveled. I saw stuff that others only read about. It was exhilarating! But somewhere along the way, my love of running slipped away. I was in shape, and comfortable with my physical being. And I ran, but I ran because I had to, not because I wanted to. The enjoyment of complete solitude can’t be found when your running with the people you work with. Your pace is no longer your pace, but that of the team. It’s hard to get lost in the run when your focused on everyone finishing. Running became a chore. I ran because I had to, not because I wanted to. I won’t say I did the minimum to get by, because that’s not who I am. But I certainly wasn’t getting the enjoyment out of it that I used to. After a while, the pace of the military, with all of the gear and requirements, began to take a toll on my body. My knees have worn down over time from the constant wear and tear of supporting my body and the associate gear/weapons assigned to me. I’m not complaining. I’d do it again if given the opportunity. But I’m not that carefree eighteen year old that can run forever anymore.
Now my life has changed again. The military is no longer my master. I’ve moved on to a great career in teaching. With it brings new responsibilities and new stressors. Not much different from joining the military when you think about it. Any new career will bring with it new challenges. What teaching doesn’t require is physical fitness. Yes, it is a physically demanding job in that you’re on your feet most of the day. But I don’t have to pass a fitness examination and I certainly don’t need to work out with my fellow teachers. So, for me, that meant that for the past six years, I’ve not done a very good job of staying in shape. The first couple years, I was fine because it’s kind of hard to lose your condition after 25+ years of training. But eventually, the gut started expanding, and my ability to run more than short distances eroded. The stressors of teaching started to build, and I didn’t have a release, other than alcohol. My wife called it beer therapy. I started wondering how I used to deal with it all. I thought back through all of my time in the Air Force, what I did to survive. In the military, you don’t need to figure it out, because there really isn’t time for that. You just keep pressing and doing what needs to be done, including the workouts. So I looked a little further back, to when the responsibilities of he military hadn’t corrupted my understanding of life. I remembered when I used to run to give everything meaning. I’m getting back to that now. I have the time to invest in my mental health, and running seems to be paying the best dividends. The miles don’t come as easily. The wear and tear is still there. My knees ache when I push them too hard. But the relaxation at the end of the run is back. The roads and views are different. Instead of the humid, green environment of the Midwest, I now have the dry, high desert environment of New Mexico. But there are plenty of roads leading to nowhere, and I have glimpses of the wisdom and purpose that I once knew, allowing me to cope with this new existence.