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Up and over

Every new runner encounters a few bumps now and then - the key is to push on.

I got my first e-mail address in the mid 1980s when I was an administrator at the University of Illinois. At that time, sending e-mail was a novel concept. Since I knew only two other people who had e-mail, we quickly ran out of things to write to one another. At some point, though, e-mail went from novelty to necessity. It hit a tipping point, a concept that Malcolm Gladwell famously coined in one of my favorite books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference".

If you think about it, becoming a runner also requires hitting a tipping point - a point at which you can't imagine not lacing up your shoes to go out for a run. It's no secret that when I started running as a 43-year-old overweight smoker, it wasn't the most natural activity I'd ever undertaken (that would have been watching football on TV and drinking beer).

But I liked the idea of running - it was a novel concept to me. I liked thinking about running fast and creating elaborate training schedules. I liked reading about the latest shoes and apparel and sports-nutrition products. It was just the actual running part that I hated.

In my mind, runners were thin - and I was not. Runners were fast - and I was not. Runners enjoyed every run - and I certainly did not. But once I started to participate in races, I noticed a slight shift in my attitude. These were mostly small, local 5-Ks where there was no pressure to do anything but try hard and have fun. In no time, I knew nearly everyone at these races; they became like an extended family. They were, much to my surprise, a wonderfully supportive group that welcomed me with open arms.

I also discovered that they shared many of my concerns: They worried about what to eat before a race and what their pace should be. They worried whether their singlet and shorts matched their shoes (yes, for many that was a real concern). And rather than feeling apart from the running community, I began to feel like I was a part of the running community.

That was the tipping point. I realized that the only requirement to be part of this wonderful group was to run. I didn't have to be fast. I didn't have to be great. I just had to run. And that's when running became not just something that I do but something that is a part of who I am.

I don't know what the failure rate is for people who start to run and then quit. Based on the e-mails I get on the topic, my guess is that it's pretty high. People start, as I did, with faulty expectations and unrealistic goals, and they fail miserably and give up. They don't stick with it long enough to get to their tipping point.

But there is a tipping point for all of us. It may be the first time you log 25 miles in one week, or when you start to look forward to your long group run on Saturday. Or maybe it will hit you after returning from a run, realizing you never once glanced at your watch. Your tipping point is out there. If you're willing to keep looking for it and push through the tough times, you'll find it. And when you do, I promise you'll never look back.

Waddle on, friends.

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