Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I run because I am afraid..

We're all hardwired with a pretty solid 'fight or flight' mechanism that is designed to save our ass when things get dicey.

There's something to be said for standing your ground and putting up a fight in certain circumstances, but it's equally important to know when you're outgunned. There's no shame in heading for the hills when the deck is stacked against you.

If you encounter a bear in the woods, you're likely going to bolt to the nearest tree and clamber up it as quick as you can. Unless you have a death wish.

If you find yourself in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time, the ability to run like hell can come in handy as well.

What drives the fight or flight mechanism is fear. But, there are many fears in life that can't be fought or outrun. Aging and death come for all of us no matter how fast we run or how hard we fight. Change comes into our lives often unannounced and unwelcome. You can try fighting change or running away from it, but neither approach works.

Then there are the regular daily fears that plague everyone and prevent us from moving forward. I'm not smart enough. I'm not strong enough. I'm too old. I'm too out of shape. I don't know if there's an effective way to completely eliminate these self-defeating and largely irrational fears.

These fears wax and wane depending upon the circumstances. Ultimately, the best we can do is manage our fears. Not surprisingly, I think running provides a pretty good mechanism for managing fear.

During my sophomore year of high school, my father lost his job. He was the primary breadwinner in our household and was supporting my mother, me, and my two siblings who were attending expensive private colleges. He also had a sizable mortgage he was responsible for. I can only imagine the fears that plagued him.

The tension and fear in our household was palpable. I had just recently become a runner and I relished every mile I spent out on the road away from the seething cauldron of stress that our home had become. It was seemingly the only place where I could find solace and escape from the fears that occupied every corner of our home.

My father would occasionally lace up his shoes during this period and run a few miles. I vividly recall my mother telling him one day that he was 'running away from his problems'. To me, it was an absurd notion.

While I didn't know much about how my father was dealing with what was happening at home, I knew that he was not running away from anything. I imagined my father was running to 'manage' the stress and fears that likely consumed him.

I knew that was a big part of why I was running and why I still run today. Because it is in those quiet moments of zen out on the road or on the trail that all of the vociferous fears that rattle around in my head become markedly quieter...at least temporarily. Sometimes, at the end of a run the fears aren't just quieted they are completely exorcised.

Maybe it's the endorphins. Maybe it's the adrenaline. Maybe it's the natural anti-depressants the act of running releases. Perhaps it's just the change of scenery and fresh air. All I know is any/all fears become a bit more manageable and a bit less daunting after a run.

So, I say f&*k the fear. I run because I am afraid, but I'm not going to let fear prevent me from moving forward.

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