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Running blind

The importance of choosing a path that's right for you.

There's a quote by William Purkey, a well-known professor of education, that goes, "Dance like no one is watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, and live like it's heaven on earth." It seems like the perfect life philosophy - and one I've learned to apply to running over the years. I run like no one is watching, even when I'm racing with 35,000 people. I'm usually having so much fun, I simply don't care what anyone else thinks.

But I didn't always feel this way. In my early days, when I weighed 240 pounds, I ran like everyone was watching - and judging. If I was on a run and saw a car approaching, I'd stop and pretend I was looking for something I'd lost.

I was so concerned with what other people thought of me that by the time I did open up about running, I constantly worried whether I was living up to their expectations. My first coach put me on a treadmill, dialed up the pace to 9:20 per mile, and said to run for 40 minutes. I tried and, not surprisingly, failed. I couldn't help but be disappointed in myself - even though I knew what he was asking was nearly impossible for me.

I even dressed like people were watching. I bought the high-tech gear and sleek clothes that I thought would make people believe I was a runner - even if I felt like an imposter in them. And I didn't have a clue if the expensive shoes I was wearing were the right kind for me - I just wanted to look like I fit in with this group.

To be honest, I felt a certain satisfaction in believing that someone was watching. I really thought that other people cared about my performance. The best example of this was a combined, two-lap marathon and half in Florence, Italy. As I neared the finish line, the crowd began to cheer. I was astounded. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, and the Italians were yelling for "Il Pinguino."

About 20 yards from the finish, the truth set in when the winner of the full marathon went past me as I was finishing the half-marathon. No one was cheering for me. No one probably even noticed that I was finishing. I couldn't help but smile at my own illusion of self-importance.

That's when I realized I had been running for every reason except the right one. I ran to make other people happy, ran to live up to their expectations. But that didn't matter. No one was watching - no one cared. So I decided I was going to run for me - just me - and gained a new enjoyment from the sport I hadn't truly experienced yet. That doesn't mean I don't want to improve or sometimes wish I could run faster. It just means that the joy I feel when I'm moving my body with my own two feet is so great that the act alone is satisfying enough. I've learned to run like no one is watching.

So if you see me at a race, and I look like a 60-year-old guy waddling along, don't worry. I'm fine. I'm better than fine. I'm happy. You see, I remember those words that first appeared here 13 years ago: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."

Waddle on, friends.

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