This article is featured on Jennifer Luitwieler’s website in a series called “Why I run.”
Running is in my blood. It is not a direct link but an ancestral one. I am a descendant of the Proud Kaw and Pawnee Nations. This makes me some sort of kin to the great Billy Mills. The blood that fueled his heart in 1964 fuels mine in 2012.
I can only remember the times before I ran as a hazed block of mistakes and gallant efforts to find peace in recovery from my addiction. I had a life prior to when I began running, I just think my life has more depth and meaning now that I run.
I wrote an article for RUNREVRUN just after I finished my first half marathon in Louisville, KY. In it I described my connection and affinity to Billy Mills. I fancied myself as the new Billy Mills and as a boy would run and pretend I was Billy running free on the Mid American Plains past buffalo and past the tall grasses that blanket the mounds of our ancestors.
I felt free when I ran. It has always been a way for me to escape my life’s problems and be near Tirawa, the Creator god of my ancestors. I did not know as a child that running was not the same as flying. It sure felt that way to me.
My first race I trained with my wife. We signed up for a training program at our local YMCA. We ran a 5K, a 10K, a 10 miler, and the half marathon in a group. I ran off over 60 pounds during those five months of training. I felt free. I felt liberated. I was Billy as I crossed that fist half finish line.
With the sense of freedom and liberation to my back I pressed on. My knees were sore and I did not run for the next couple of months. I kept up fitness with cross-training and some weight training. Then life got busy.
My wife and I are both pastors. My wife had put her career on hold for me to pursue my pastoral dreams. It was time to return the favor. We entered the search process and my wife found a call in Oklahoma City. This was just in time. My job (call) was rapidly deteriorating.
I began my career in ministry as a bright eyed creative young(er) pastor with energy, excitement, and passion for those I served. I ended my career in ministry wounded by disapointing pastoral relationships, horrified by relationships with office staff, and feeling let down by the seemingly different visions for ministry the congregation and I had. I gladly left Louisville looking for a change.
I decided to focus on training for two half marathons over the next six month period. This surely wound get my shit tighter and help me recover from the departure from ministry. We left for Oklahoma City with excitement, trepidation, and a plan.
On the way to Oklahoma we found out my wife’s grandmother (Maw Maw) died and we needed to get to Austin, TX. We made our way to Oklahoma and drove to Amarillo, TX for my wife’s ordination and then straight to Austin for the funeral.
It was there that I signed up for two half marathons. I was eager and hopeful. I was inspired by Maw Maw and hoped to honor her memory by training and finishing these races.
I did not run. I found excuse after excuse. There are no safe places to run in Oklahoma City. It is too windy and cold to run. I joined a gym and trained in doors. Then my depression hit full on.
I had not realized how dark and deep the waters had gotten. I was mired in the marshes of self-hate. I had a tremendous amount of hatred and angry towards the church. I loathed God. I cussed God up one-side and down the other. The very mention of church made me upset.
I needed help. Running no longer helped. I stopped running but kept up cross-training. I went and saw a therapist. I went every week in fear that if I did not go I would succumb to the dark voices in my head and “peace out” to this world. I desperately wanted to find that peace to run again.
Over the course of the next couple of months the darkness slowly diluted and the light shined through. I tried to run again but found out that the twenty-five pounds I reclaimed had put additional stress on my body and my knees could not take it.
The light was there but my knees were not cooperating. I kept up the cross-training in hopes to drop all the weigh I had regained. I had all but forgot about the races I had signed up for.
The first one came and went. There was no way I could have run it. I pushed it out of my mind and looked upon the next one some four weeks away.
Around this time I came across an article on Billy Mills in Runner’s World. I read it and got super excited about running again. I worried that I could not complete the half marathon on such little training.
I attempted a three mile run on the treadmill and did great. My knees were not so sore. I waited a week and ran seven miles. It felt great to run again. My knees were a little sorer than the week before. I waited a week before I ran another nine miles. These nine miles were a week prior to the half marathon. I was sure I could do it. I felt great and was sure I could do another four miles.
I rested the week before the race. On the morning of the race I got up earlier than a rooster and set out to downtown Oklahoma City for the race. I got little to no sleep but was pumped by all the excitement surrounding the race. It was celebrating and honoring those lost in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
I was alone, in the early morning darkness sitting on a wall waiting for the race to begin. I prayed, “God get me through this race. I am willing to die to finish this one.” I was truly willing to die. My plan was to run/walk the race and hoped to finish under 3 hours 30 minutes.
I walked to the starting line and realized that most of the runners had already started. I was the second to last person to start the race. The last guy to start was a solider carrying 168 pounds to honor those that died in the attack. I though to myself I hope to at least beat him.
I ran alone in my head. I prayed for others. I prayed for myself. I cussed at God. I enjoyed being out there. I ran so slow it might have been a brisk walk. It rained on us and it felt good. My legs felt great but my arms were heavy and I got real tired carrying them around. I wished I could detach them and pick them up later. I did not stop running until mile 11 or 12.
I sort of stumbled the last mile of so. It was sheer will power that I got to the end. When I got to the final straight away I mustered all the strength I had left and sprinted (this might have actually been the perfect impression of a Clydesdale horse) towards the finish line. I still had tears in my eyes. I looked to my sides and stretched out my hands to the imaginary Billy that ran on my left and to my wife who ran to my right and held their hands as I crossed the finish line. I was a sobbing mess as I crossed the line.
I wobbled and fell in to the arms of one of the volunteers. Crying I struggled to speak to them when they asked if I was ok. I was not but said I was. With his help he picked my up I wiped my eyes, received my medal and started to walk home.
I have never been more proud of anything in my life as I am for having completed that half marathon. In it I rediscovered me. I rediscovered than passion for why I run. In it I was truly liberated. Those 13.1 miles offered me the best therapy that I have ever had. Through every hill, turn, straight away, and cheering section I kept on keeping on. In the end I discovered I no longer needed to run from the man I used to be or the man I want to be. I can now simply run.