Becoming a Soul Runner

“How did it go? I can’t find you in the results!” was the message waiting for me when I finished my fifth marathon on Sunday, October 9th. My friend was correct. My finish time was missing from the online results. Maybe I should have panicked, and shot off an email to the race director demanding an explanation!

Maybe I should have been relieved. Thankful that somehow proof of one of my slowest marathons had gone undocumented. I was neither panicked nor relieved. I was angry. The kind of angry that gives way to hot tears. Why? Because if I had somehow been aware that my timing chip was malfunctioning, and my finish time wouldn’t register at the end of this 26.2 mile journey, it would have changed everything.

I wouldn’t have spent four hours looking at my watch. Of course I assured all my friends that I wasn’t going to worry about my pace for once. But the truth is, knowing I was being timed invited an anxiety that has become all too common in my running.

In acknowledging that, I acknowledge that something is broken in my relationship with running.

It’s become like so many things in life… Get to work on time. Take the casserole out of the oven in time. And get to the Finish line in time to qualify for the Boston marathon. But it wasn’t always this way. Before coaches and training plans, before my Ironman finishes, before tracking my heart rate and logging my pace, before bikes with power meters, and bibs with timing chips, I ran for the joy of it. I ran with my soul.

There are so many benefits and blessings that emerged from my triathlon and marathon pursuits.
At some point over the past eight years as a competitive athlete however, I lost a piece of my soul. The piece that loved running for the sake of running was being smothered by a results-driven obsession. And I was miserable.

If I had somehow been aware that my timing chip was malfunctioning, and my finish time wouldn’t register at the end of my marathon, it could have changed everything. It could have stripped away the competitive, data-driven athlete and made room for a girl who loves running on beautiful autumn mornings. A girl I can only describe as a Soul Runner!

That’s why my first lesson in defining and becoming this Soul Runner is a lesson in joy…

Lesson 1:   A soul runner runs for the simple joy of it. 
We run to feel the fresh air brush our skin. To hear the sound of each inhale and exhale. And delight at the rhythm of our steps. We live in the moment, conscious and awed by our surroundings. For a fleeting mile, I was there on Sunday. I was running down a trail covered in scarlet leaves, with glimpses of the Mohawk River beyond the trees, and my heart smiled as it should every time I run.

Lesson 2: A soul runner runs with intent, and uses running to make a difference. This may be the only lesson I have passed so far. A few weeks before the marathon, I heard about a local man who is recovering from a horrific bike crash, and challenged 26 people to donate $26 for his treatments and medical bills before I finished running my 26 mile race. Running gave me a platform to make a difference. In turn, a cause bigger than myself gave me the much needed motivation to keep running when I wanted to quit at Mile 22!

Lesson 3: A soul runner doesn’t care about winning. 
Or about our pace or place or personal records. We don’t care about qualifying for Boston (although we will receive the opportunity with gratitude if do). As a soul runner, I can be free from the burden of proving to myself or anyone else that I can still win my age group in the local 15k. Free from the pressure of being faster than I was last year, or faster than the girl next to me. Because a soul runner has nothing to prove…

Lesson 4:  A soul runner treats running as a practice, not a proving ground.
During the marathon on Sunday I had to run through a large storm drain. I was listening to my Shuffle and the song “Just As I Am” by Brantley Gilbert came on. For a moment, I was alone, lost in the metal and dark of the tunnel, listening to the words:

So fill that river full of tears and whiskey
Blood I’ve spilled and the wars I’ve waged
A thousand loved lost heart broke memories
Scars on the heart and the skin I’m wearing
Raise me up, a brand new man
So I can face this world, just as I am 

I wiped the tears away as I stepped back onto the trail and into the daylight. Maybe running still had the potential to be that place where I can just be ME. With nothing to prove, maybe I could learn to embrace running as a tool for healing those heart broke memories, and for spiritual growth. If we approach running as some would yoga or surfing, we’ll be conscious of the spirituality of the run. It becomes a practice for our minds and hearts, as well as our bodies.

Lesson 5:  A soul runner is not defined by the data, or shackled to the training plan. 
That doesn’t mean we don’t wear watches (although a routine sabbatical from your timing device is a great idea)! That doesn’t mean we don’t register for races. Nor do we have to forsake all training plans and coaching. And it doesn’t necessarily mean we refuse to log our workouts. It just means that we know who we are, and our identity is not tangled up in how fast we could or still can run a mile.

Lesson 6: A soul runner is more concerned about who they become than their dream. 
In the book “Soulprint” Mark Batterson says “The goal is not accomplishing the dream… The primary issue is who you become in the process”. For a soul runner, the dream may indeed be a finish line. But the goal is to become strong, self-disciplined, healthy, peaceful, joyful, patient, faithful, thankful, positive, gentle, faithful, good, kind and loving along the way. I get it, that’s a hard lesson. But it’s crucial for putting the “soul” back in running!

Lesson 7: A soul runner is mindful of the people and places they interact with. 
They are not too results-absorbed to stop and say Hello to a friend during their morning run. Or grab that piece of garbage from the sidewalk and toss it in a trash ca
n! If they do enter races, they make the effort to encourage the other runners. They thank the volunteers and spectators, whether they are winning the race, or they are dead last.

My friend was correct. My finish time for my fifth marathon is missing. But my soul is not…
That piece that ran for the pure love of running is returning. My hope is that my finish times never register in my heart, even if they are posted online.

One mile at a time, I am transforming into a Soul Runner. And it will change everything.

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