Friday, June 18, 2010

An Odd Running Talent, An Odd Basis for Faith

Alison and I are driving up to Mt. Washington Road Race. Mt. Washington is my type of running. After 200 yards the rest is all up, 7.5 miles at 11.5%. Alison and some close friends are probably the only people who really understand the oddity of my mountain running. I started running the first week of December 1988 in high school. I got serious fairly quickly and won the small school NC Cross Country State Meet the following November, running 16.37. That is still my 5K personal best. I struggled with plantar fascitis for the next 10 years. After my quick cross country success, I felt there was a good runner lying dormant inside throughout those years. I ran, but never more than 25-30 miles a week. I finally got the fascitis resolved and returned to training seriously for about the last 10 years. Through my early 30s I basically just proved I was not as talented as I believed I myself to be. Yet, I remained delusional, I could be good if I could just find what was limiting me. I did run 16.46 for 5K this past fall, so maybe I'll improve my PR someday, but I doubt I'll ever break 16. My half-marathon personal best is 1:18.10, marathon is 2:43.42. Times that say I'm okay, not nothing great.

Then I discovered running uphill. In my early 30s, I ran Pilot Mountain at home periodically just for fun. I knew my times up it were relatively good, but I was only running a bit faster than 8 minute pace. I didn't know that was good for ~10% grade. Then I met Alison and we started running together. She wanted to know why I was running the hills so hard. My response: I am taking a break on the hills, running easy. I did a local NC hillclimb at 4% and did rather well. I was racing with guys I was never close to in regular road races. Looking on the internet, Mt. Washington looked seriously steep, plus it was the Mountain National Championship. The logical step, right. So June 17, 2006 I woke up a decent local road runner. Then I ran Mt. Washington and I was a mountain runner. At Mt. Washington, and other uphill races, I can race with much more broadly talented runners than me, i.e. generally faster. For example, that first Mt. Washington I was racing with a former US Mountain team member who had 14.20s 5K on his resume. I had discovered my running talent, an odd talent, but I'll acknowledge a natural running talent. I hadn't really done anything to develop my uphill running talent. It was just laying there undiscovered. Looking back, it was there from the start as I had always hammered people on the hills. Good for cross country.

Why I run up mountains so well is hard to put a finger on. My best guess is that I have some biomechanical difference that can't be obviously seen. When I discovered this talent, I couldn't help but think what if? What if I had the same natural ability of some that guys I race and my uphill ability? I'd be seriously good. Maybe. I would now say that is foolish talk and worthless. I'll take the talent that I have, develop it, and make the most of it. What ifs are dead end roads. Since there are a limited number of uphill races and many off road. I discovered that was good as well. The rougher, more technical the terrain is, the better I do. Longer races, ultra races are better for me. Repeated climbs in races are good. The bounds of my running talent seems to have expanded, maybe. My running talent: Not slowing down. I just seem to not slow at the same rate whenever there is something that causes running pace to be lost. An odd talent. It is still most dramatic climbing mountains.

So how does this relate to my faith in God? My faith in God has been a struggle since high school. I tend to believe what I see. I like being able understand things, prove the basis of things. God does not lend himself too well to that. God is a something you can't quite put your finger on. There is no proving God exists, just seeing the evidence of God. (There is also no proving God does not exist, or any other possible origins of life.) Running has always been a somewhat personal connection to God for me. But my uphill running talent made God make more sense to me. I believed there was a running talent inside me even in the years it would have been impossible to prove. Even after discovering my talent, it is hard to define or explain. I am still nothing especially fast for anything flat and easy. (Side note: Sometimes I wish my talent wasn't doing hard stuff. It means I get to hurt/suffer a lot. But "ifs" are still dead end roads.) If I could believe in my running ability, I can believe in God. My running experiences has made a passage from Hebrews 12, thus faith in God, make more sense for me. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith or belief is often required to take the steps to see the evidence of something.

So Mt. Washington stands before me again tomorrow. To be honest, I'm a bit unsure of how it'll go. I like to predict my time at races. A little hard this time, since the last two months training has been all over the place. I finally settled on 1:05.30. Two months ago, I would have said a good bit faster. Two days ago, I would have hoped at least sub 1:10. Whatever it is, I'll run hard. In fact, I pray often that I glorify God with my running. Not sure what that exactly means, actually. I don't pray that just for races. I say that prayer on workout days that no one sees, long runs, slow easy runs in the woods. I hope my running is a thing of beauty. To be honest, when I picture myself running, it is to me. I had a thought yesterday that I want to place well for myself. I think that's okay, but I still come back to back to glorifying God regardless of place. I'll just plan on making the most of the opportunity to turn uphill once more.

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