Independent of running, one of my biggest passions has always been film. I remember every film I've seen, what theater I was in, who I was with, how old I was, and countless other details.
I've never fully understood why I connect with this medium the way I do, but maybe it is because it was at the movies that I first learned what it meant to be heroic.
I was 3 years old. My parents took me to the theater to see 'Superman' with Christopher Reeves. I was blown away. I saw a man fly. Above and beyond Superman's gift of flight, he could use his heat vision to reduce a tree to cinders in seconds.
The powers Superman possessed even extended to the simple act of breathing. Just by exhaling, Superman could knock someone to their feet. This man was a hero, if not a god.
Superman looked real enough on the silver screen and if he was real and could fly, why couldn't I? I donned the blue shirt and red cape for Halloween and could feel Superman's powers inhabit my small frame. I imagined that I was the last son of Krypton, impervious to pain and invincible.
My attempt to fly was all it took for me realize there's a difference between what you see on the silver screen and what's possible in the 'real world'. I was not Superman.
I realized all too quickly that we're all flawed, frail, and capable of being broken. Being confronted by the unfortunate reality of my mortality, I continued to gravitate towards the heroic. Could one be human and heroic?
I dove deep into comic books and discovered Batman, a character that was all too human, but managed to do things that were decidedly heroic.
In 'The Dark Knight Returns', Batman returned to kicking crime's ass despite a receding (and graying) hairline, a lengthy retirement, and arthritis. Completely unrealistic, but it doesn't get much more heroic than this.
It was right around the time that Batman became one of my personal heroes that I discovered running. For the first time in my life, I discovered an activity that perhaps provided me an opportunity to be heroic. Perhaps not as heroic as Superman or Batman, but as heroic as any normal, real human could be.
Running provided a vehicle by which I could test my limits in a way I never had before. I found myself in the position of being exhausted at the end of a race, but inexplicably mustering a final finishing kick to help my team win.
I couldn't understand or explain how I managed to do this. But, I felt like Batman. I felt like a hero when I did this. I even adopted a strange habit of uttering a war cry right before I unleashed my finishing kick.
I don't feel heroic every time I run. But, there are a handful of moments in my running life that I can point to where I found something within myself that can only be characterized as heroic.
I was braver than I thought I could be. I was stronger than I thought possible. I rallied to do something that defied conventional wisdom. I could be heroic....if only for a few brief, fleeting seconds.
Of all the things I have gained from running, it is likely this ability to find a way to rise above it all every once in awhile that stands out the most. The personal bests are great. The medals are fantastic. The friends I have made are incomparable.
But, life confronts all of us with things we're not sure we can overcome. Running reminds me that I have, I can, and I will. I run because I am heroic.