Man running on trail in autumn - Running towards clarity

The following has been excerpted from In the Distance, in which long-distance runner Dave Griffin writes about how running isn’t just a sport, it’s a vehicle for self-discovery and finding inner peace. 

Look back at your life. Think about the struggle you’ve endured. What have you learned?

In time, we can grow wise if we only accept the lessons we learned through all our struggle. Meditate. Reflect. Your life has meaning. Find it.

Memories of greatness

Time passed methodically in the 1980s. Years were eternities, made up of deliberate seconds sounding off from a mantle clock.

My memories of those years are a series of snapshots and short video clips. I was running in the lead pack of a cross-country race at Western Maryland College. Local runners had been invited to join this particular race, and since I never ran collegiately, it was an exciting chance for me to experience college racing.

A runner just in front of me asked his teammate who I was and the teammate replied, “Don’t worry, he’ll fade soon.” I can’t remember anything else about that race, except rounding the final turn in first place, the two of them well behind me.

I have snippets of memories from all my greatest races. I remember when Rosa Mota of Portugal ran beside me in the final mile of the 1984 Cherry Blossom 10-mile, the year she won Olympic bronze in Los Angeles, and four years before she won Olympic gold in Seoul.

I remember a few moments from my first half marathon, the inaugural Bachman Valley race. Scott Douglas, now a senior editor for Running Times Magazine, had run out to an early lead. I can picture Scott turning onto Lemmon Road as I was chasing him. With just over a mile to go, I caught him on Sullivan Road, and we ran to the finish together to memorialize ourselves in the race’s long history.

I remember running half-mile repeats after nightfall at the college track, jogging to a beam of light to check my time, and then pressing in the silent dark to run the next repeat faster.

Moments flowing by like water

My daughter was born at 8:49 a.m. on November 19, 1989. As far as I can tell, that’s the moment time began to move more quickly.

There isn’t a word that describes how I felt about her. Infatuated is too juvenile. Obsessed is too harsh. My heart was simply taken, immersed in the life of my baby girl.

No two days were the same; she changed constantly. Her look, her sounds, and her movements evolved through a rapid parade of days that became months, which became years.

Once time started moving more quickly, it never stopped, and somehow 25 years have passed like water moving down Big Pipe Creek.

I ran a set of half-mile repeats on the track the other day. It felt much like it used to feel, relaxed early on and then harder as the workout progressed. It was almost like I was in my twenties again, until I checked the numbers on my watch. Am I that much slower, or is time really moving faster now?

I sometimes wonder how I was able to run as fast as I used to run, and I can’t help but compare my present and past performances. I become frustrated at first, but then I stop myself. That’s not the message here.

The illusion was in the past, when I thought time was limitless and opportunity lasted forever. The reality is now, this moment, speeding by as it is.

We have this day, that’s all. Before it’s over, immerse your heart in the people you love and free your spirit in the things you do.

Time’s a thief, but it’s also a teacher

It’s hard for an aging distance runner like me to see time as a friend. I sometimes regard it as a thief, a silent burglar that stole something I can’t seem to stop looking for.

That’s exactly how I felt recently when I had a reason to look over the race results in my running logs from the 1980s.

I made a chart and listed every race, showing the date, event, distance, time and finishing position. Back then, I was running about 20 races a year and winning many of them. In dozens of races, I bettered my previous fastest time for the distance.

And yet, I never stopped wanting to get better, and I never stopped hoping to beat runners who usually beat me.

Just like every lifelong runner, there’s a burning ember deep inside me. By its purest definition it is a reason, a purpose fulfilled only by running and racing. For me, at the time, the ember was a competitive spark.

I developed a stress fracture on my right tibia in the fall of 1989, and I was forced to stop running for a while. Before I could start again, I became a father and found myself with greater job responsibilities. My life’s focus had shifted and my serious racing days were over.

The passing of years can blur a memory. Looking back now, I’m not certain why I stopped serious training and racing. It may have been the new obligations, or it may have been something else.

Maybe it was an unconscious choice. The burning ember was impossible to satisfy. My results never lived up to my dreams and I was beginning to doubt whether they ever would. Maybe, I just wanted to avoid disappointment.

You never know if a choice you made years ago was a mistake or not. Life’s course is a fickle thing. Once we choose a path it’s impossible to know where a different path might have led, and time spent searching for an answer is futile.

Time really is a thief, but it’s also a teacher, and I finally understand that every moment is about more than the moment itself. Everything we do, or decide not to do, has an impact. We’re all on a journey to become who we were meant to be, and the only way we can get there is to forgive ourselves for the mistakes of the past.

Reconciling the present and the past

Fortunately for me, a new ember burns now.

It feeds on the movement that feels so familiar. It thrives in the solitude of quiet trails. Each run takes me away from whatever noise I want to escape and rejuvenates my spirit.

The old ember is still there. I feel it every day. I don’t view it with regret anymore. I view it with gratitude, knowing it has led me where I never could have gone without it.

Dave Griffin began running in 1976 as a high school freshman. After a 12-year period of casual running, he returned to competitive running as a master. Griffin started the Flying Feet Running Programs in 2004 while his daughter, Katie, was running in high school. The program has since grown to provide year-round coaching and support to runners of all levels in the Carroll County, Maryland area.

Reprinted from In the Distance: Why We Struggle Through the Demands of Running, and How It Leads Us To Peace by Dave Griffin, by arrangement with Flying Feet Running Programs, LLC, Copyright 2016 by Dave Griffin.
image: Man running via Shutterstock