I never in my life wanted to run. Never!
People joke that they would only run if someone was chasing them. My thought was I wouldn’t even run then. They’d obviously catch me and then I’d be too tired to fight. Never trusted runners. Comedians joke that joggers are the ones always finding the bodies. My thought is, what did that runner do in their lives that they have to constantly train for being chased. I’m just saying, I’m not fond of running in theory or in practice.
In 2016, I was moving into end stage renal failure. As part of the process for getting on a transplant list, I had to take a few classes at the transplant center and elsewhere to get educated on the process, what could go wrong, my responsibilities, etc. During one of those introductory classes, a man who had been transplanted came and talked to us about his experience and answered questions. One of the things he talked about was the importance of exercise in preparing for a better recovery. I could barely walk at that point. How was I going to exercise?! He talked about riding a bike. I thought maybe I could do that.
I got a bike for Father’s Day and we got the kids’ bikes fixed up and we rode around together. After a while, I pushed for distance and got up to ten miles a day. I could still barely walk and I felt rough from kidney failure, but I could still push myself to do it. I did really well on my heart and stress tests as a result and got on the transplant list. In the year following transplant, I had some bumps along the way, but a few days before the time I started writing this, I rode twelve miles on my bike.
During a rejection episode back in July, I had to go on steroids to reverse rejection and save the kidney. The new meds succeeded in reversing the rejection episode. Keeping off the weight and processing nutrients on the steroids became a big concern. I had to incorporate walking. I got up to where I could walk six miles in the morning.
I told the doctors that I could work at it and probably walk off ten pounds,
but I didn’t think I could walk off twenty. He told me I had to get religious about it. Get serious to the point that I’d be cursing him.
After a blood pressure issue in the New Year, the doctors talked to me about some of the weight I had put on from the steroids. I needed to lose twenty pounds to keep my blood pressure under control, to be able to limit my required medicine load over my lifetime, and to extend the life of my transplant kidney and my life. Everyone makes a weight loss resolution in the New Year and most people fail. This one got made for me. It had nothing to do with the New Year and everything to do with my survival.
I had a problem though. Since the steroids, I had made huge adjustments to my life. I was already exercising and pushing myself to do more even when I was tired. I was already eating well. Because of the nutrient leech from the steroids, I was eating kale and other super foods. There wasn’t much more adjustment to be made diet. A cheap trick to put off weight in a hurry is to drink only water and drink a lot of it. My doctors already had me drinking over a gallon a day and I had switched to all water months ago. There was not a lot of wiggle room to edge off more pounds, much less twenty.
I told the doctors that I could work at it and probably walk off ten pounds, but I didn’t think I could walk off twenty. He told me I had to get religious about it. Get serious to the point that I’d be cursing him. We discussed intervals and muscle confusion and rest days between exercise days. We talked about serious calorie and portion control.
About that time, my living donor, the man who gave me one of his kidneys and saved my life, had made plans with us to come up on the anniversary of the transplant. For that weekend he would be here, he found there was going to be a charity 5k in town and signed up for it. He contacted us shortly after my appointment and asked us to join him for the fun run/walk portion of the event before the actually 5k. We agreed because he gave me a kidney and I would help him hide a body if he asked me to.
A day later I came to the realization again I had already come to earlier. I can walk off ten pounds, but I can’t walk off twenty. I contacted him back and said I was going to look at training for the 5K for a month and then upgrade my registration. Time-wise, I had two extra days more than I actually needed for the training schedule, so I figured I was good.
I went out the first day to try the beginning intervals. I had to run ten minutes, walk for one, and then run for ten again. It did not go well. I ran the first ten minutes sloppy with starts and stops. I felt heavy when I ran. I walked longer than one minute between. When I started the next run, I made it four minutes and quit. I didn’t feel like I was dying afterward, but I had given up.
I took the next day off for the rest day and planned to start again on what would be the real first day of the training plan counting back from actual race day. I could give up and fail, but I could not do so without consequences for my life and the potential time I had with my children and in light of all the sacrifices made for me to buy that time. I needed to do this and I needed a motivation bigger than myself to trick me into running. It had to be something as grand as the anniversary of the transplant and running with my living donor. People had to know I was doing it too, so it would not be easy or quiet for me to give up. So, I told everyone I was doing it and why. Perseverance requires something bigger than ourselves because the road we have to run is almost never an easy one. If the goal at the end is too small or too unimportant to us, then it is too easy to give up.
I went out again. It was twenty-nine degrees. I did not put on extra layers because I felt so overheated the last time I tried. I had stretched well both times and knew what I needed to work on in terms of form. My biggest problem was actually the upper body. I kept tensing my shoulders and had to remember to shake them out and relax them. I started my warm-up walk then. I had dropped the warm-up from ten to five minutes. Before two minutes were up, it was too freaking cold out to keep walking. I started my first ten minute timer and I ran.
I chose a music mix to take my mind off it. I made sure to pick one that randomly cut on and off the songs and did repeats of overlapping cuts between songs. It was all driving dance beats and random. I needed to be unaware of the passage of time because checking the timer tortured me. In order to persevere in this, I could not be watching the clock. It had to just be about pushing on through the physical challenge of it all regardless of how close or far I was from the end.
I completed the first ten and timed my one minute walk. I had been going fast at the beginning and started getting winded early. I backed off and felt better. It was still tough. I felt the fatigue. At some points I felt like I was actually walking rather than running. Then, I’d catch my shadow and realize I was actually running still. The point of the training program was not to go fast, but to build up the endurance to not stop even after it got tough. I needed to develop the ability to keep going for a long time after it got tough. I had to condition my mind as much or more than my body to not stop until the finish line. In this case and in many cases, training to persevere for the race meant training for time over speed or distance. I had to be able to get past the barrier of time in order for perseverance to be instilled into me as it pertained to running.
Because perseverance is a character trait that is tied to pushing through time. We don’t persevere by going faster and it is not really about the distance either. In the races we run in life, we don’t have a set distance to victory. It takes twists and turns not shown to us on a map before we started. We have to train for time because distance and speed vary widely in the races in our lives.
My fingers got so cold that my phone didn’t recognize that I was touching it. I couldn’t get my music unpaused for the second ten minutes. I just had to run. It wasn’t what I had planned and it was going to be harder now. I was back to the temptation of checking the timer. Sometimes I was surprised how much time had passed since last time I looked. Other times, it felt only a few seconds had passed in an eternity. This was where I had failed before – on the second interval.
I had to set short distances in my head to keep running. Just to the next tree. Just to the next stop sign. Just to that speed bump. I could not take the whole challenge at once. It was too much. I had to handle the step right in front of me in order to persevere.
Finally, it was down to one minute. Almost done, but it still felt like I wanted to give up. Perseverance is most important in the stretches we think should be easy, but then they turn out not to be. This is important exactly when things don’t go as planned and you have push on anyway. It was important to finish that last ten minutes because there would be twelve minutes on another day and fifteen minutes after that. I didn’t have to worry about any of those days because today had enough worries of its own running twenty minutes in 29 degree weather.
I put on my gloves the next time I ran in those temperatures. Succeeding once though, built a foundation for succeeding again. Coming back to try again after a failure or a false start or falling short, is also a vital part of perseverance.
After this ten minute day, I had the option the next day to take a rest day again or cross train – as in weights or biking. I rode my bike. I felt good and I know I am working toward endurance. I need to be able to stick it out over time in order to achieve important goals. My goal is tied into the one of the most important goal in simply maintaining life.
And that is the driving magic of perseverance.
It is tricking your body and mind to transcend time. While at the same time, you can’t help but to feel every step of the journey.
I have not grown to love actually running. My legs don’t hurt when I’m done anymore though. It is still just as hard, but I am getting a little faster even though that is not the primary goal at this point. I feel really good the hours and days between running. I’ve also realized it is easier in the later minutes and miles when I set very small goals. I use the lines in the curb concrete. Maybe about seven feet apart and only a few steps. If I think about just passing the next one, then I don’t notice the strain as much. In our toughest times, we sometimes need to celebrate the smallest victories and accomplishments to keep going.
And that is the driving magic of perseverance. It is tricking your body and mind to transcend time. While at the same time, you can’t help but to feel every step of the journey. While there is much we have to face alone in life, there are no rewards or trophies for doing life alone. My goals are supported by my wife and family. They are supported by the friends, loved ones, the people in our church, and not least of all the man who gave me a kidney and convinced me I could run. Whatever race you are in and no matter how badly you want to quit or don’t want to start again after a failure, I hope I might find some way to be a part of reminding you that running your race is still a possibility for you.