This past weekend I got served a beer with a side of perspective on running from a very unlikely source. We spent the weekend in our hometown for a wedding and got to visit my husband’s family. I’m incredibly close with my inlaws and they’ve seen me through more than a decade of good, bad and ugly. I consider myself very lucky to have the relationship I do with them.
My mother in law is a runner and I’ve run many miles with her, even done a marathon. A love/addiction to running is something we share so it didn’t surprise me when she brought up my recent blog post and talked about how she identified with many of the things I spoke about.
We talked a lot about finding balance (easier said than done) and the quest to have a better sense of self outside of running. She’s one of the most grounding people in my life so to hear her empathize and actually share in some of my struggles with blurring the line between passion and obsession was a beacon of hope for sure.
But the most enlightening tidbit actually came from the least likely source at the table. My father-in-law, Dana, is an active middle aged guy. Not a “runner” (by his own identification) but always active and fit. He runs 3-4 times a week, a few miles here and there. Never to train, just to stay in shape.
For this to all make sense, I need to give you a little background on him. In 2013, we found out that Dana needed a kidney transplant. He had been dealing with hereditary kidney disease for years but it was now making him sicker and sicker. He was on the list for a transplant and it became a waiting game.
Here’s where it gets good (Oprah, are you reading this?) It’s customary for family, if they wish, to be tested to see if they are a match to donate. My mother-in-law was a match. And where it gets even better, she was 100% game. In January of 2014, she gave her husband the ultimate gift – the gift of life. I like to think that now he has two of her organs – her heart and her kidney.
Both recovered amazingly and my mother-in-law has since run another marathon and hasn’t missed a beat. She’s the definition of selfless and her resilience still humbles me everyday. Dana is back up and functioning better than I could have ever imagined and on the surface their lives look totally ordinary (in the best way possible).
Fast forward almost 4 years and I’m having a beer, talking to Dana about my blog. He chats about how he can see that passion creep into obsession and while he’s never experienced it personally, he can understand. Then he says something that stops me dead. He says, “I think I’m just lucky enough to have a different perspective on it. Every day that I get out there I’m just trying to keep myself healthy enough to stay alive. See, I don’t live to run. I run to live.”
I thought about that for a long time after he said it. I’m pretty sure I missed the next few sentences he said. For all I know he could have released national security secrets to me and I’d be none the wiser. I couldn’t help but be stuck on that phrase: “I don’t live to run, I run to live.”
For the longest time I did live to run. It’s what I defined as my passion and I think it still is. But in the midst of this forced break, I’ve been searching for some sort of clarity around what balance looks like. Here was someone sitting in front of me who had quite literally stared his fate in the face, and with the help of the person who loves him the most, said “Nope. Not me. Not now.” And meanwhile here I was complaining that I couldn’t run 873 miles today.
Let me be clear, I don’t think I ever want to completely lose that passion and drive that running has given me. I always want to have goals because I truly enjoy pushing my limits and find a lot of excitement in seeing what I’m capable of. But I never again want to live and die by the number on the clock at a finish line. That to me is living to run and I think I’ve already missed out on a few too many things by not living for the rest of it.
I think the problem is that often we get so caught up in these things we pour our heart and soul into that they start to define us as people. “I am a runner”. “I am a doctor”. I am a mother”. We push ourselves so tirelessly to become the best and strongest version of our definition that we are forced to leave behind the other parts that make us who we are. But I am convinced that there’s a happy medium in there. A way to use those things that fuel our fire to come the best version of ourselves, and I think it comes from redefining purpose.
So today I’m taking a page from someone who’s lived almost 1,500 Non-Zero days. When I eventually (in approx 120 years) am able to come back to running, it will be with a new purpose – to live. To see the world around me on my own two feet. To find peace in the chaos that surrounds me. To enjoy the company of a friend, or stranger. And to challenge myself to be not only a better runner, but a better person. Because No Zero Days means more than one goal, one purpose. It means we get to live, and that’s something I don’t ever want to take for granted.