Miles to go
Here is an early Penguin Chronicle that may help to put the whole "Penguin phenomenon" into perspective. As you can tell from the tone of the column, no one was more surprised by how this started than me.
From time to time I get insights into how my life is changing - and how running has become the change agent. Those of you who, by nature or by training, are better tuned to your own psyches may scoff at the density of my awareness. Be reminded that I have been no more inclined to be open with myself than I have with others.
It's also helpful to remember that I've had a difficult time thinking of myself as a runner. It doesn't seem to matter what my log says or what others say, I am still more comfortable referring to myself as "someone who runs" than as "a runner".
Lately I've noticed that in stressful times I reach for my running shoes. Earlier in my life I might have reached for a cigarette, a beer, some food or the company of another person. And, when I once would have turned outside myself for help in tough times, running now allows me to turn inside.
I've noticed, too, that in times of celebration and joy - when before I would have reached for something to eat or drink - I now reach for my running shoes. I find myself running when I'm happy as well as when I'm troubled.
Through the activity of running, more than the sport itself, I have come to be a much better friend to myself. Through running I have learned to console myself, congratulate myself and be accepting of myself.
There are times in my life, though, when there are not enough miles to run. There are times when the movement of my feet seems like the only measure of control I have over my day or my life. On those days - on the days when circumstances conspire to show me only the worst of who I am and who I am becoming - my running shoes become life-preservers.
At times I find myself sitting and staring at my shoes, waiting for them to somehow find the energy to begin running by themselves. It's almost as if, like a squirrel, I have been hiding good feelings inside my shoes for the days when I need them.
The miracle is that very often the strategy seems to work. With the first tentative foot strike, the first stumbling step, the first stride of conviction toward the person I want to be, I am liberated. As the miles pass I stop staring at the ground in defeat. I begin to hold my head up. I rediscover pride in overcoming the past and conquering the present.
In those moments I come closest to accepting that I am a runner. During those minutes and hours I am sure of one thing - I can put one foot in front of the other. I truly am a runner and not just a person who runs.
And in those moments I realize I am also part of a community of runners. Even when I am running alone, I know that somewhere, at the same time, hundreds of other people are doing the same thing. Some, perhaps, for the same reasons.
The best part is knowing that some of you out there are running with me.
Waddle on, friends. I need the company.