38. Why I Run

38. Why I Run

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Why I Run

I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.
 ~John Locke

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a long distance runner who logs 140 to 200 miles per month. People are very passionate about running: they either love it or loathe it. I run seven days a week.

When I was fourteen, as a cyclist, I was hit by a car and almost paralyzed from the waist down. I spent the next four years wearing a back brace complete with custom steel rods.

I began running seven days a week to strengthen my core muscles. It was grueling but my persistence paid off. I built my core muscles solid and was able to shed my back brace before I graduated from high school.

When I was twenty-five, I was in a car accident in which I herniated the disks above and below my now degenerating verte-brae — another setback. Being stubborn and determined, however, I ignored the doctors who told me to limit my activity and again set out to rebuild and strengthen my broken body through my own personalized training program. That impairment only cost me two years.

When I was thirty-one, I was in yet another car accident in which I tore both of my Anterior Crucial Ligaments — another hindrance. That injury was serious. I had surgery and underwent physical therapy three to five times a week due to complications. It took me two years to learn how to walk again, having to wear knee braces every day during that time. The specialists told me that their goal was to get me to walk “normally” but that I would never run again — devastating news for someone who views running as the oxygen she breathes.

The doctors were right. For the next nine and a half years, I was unable to run more than twenty-five feet without my knees ballooning up like cantaloupes. Having four children by then, it was extremely frustrating to not be able to rise to the athletic ability I was used to.

In 2006, I began self-training to participate in a 60-mile, three-day breast cancer walk. My goal was to accomplish that task blister-free, without inflamed knees and feeling strong at the end. I began a self-guided five-month training regimen. I was determined to do that event without the use of my knee braces. Yes, I still needed to use them while engaging in sports. I knew I would have to build my core muscles strong to support my back, as well as my leg muscles to support my knees.

Three months into preparing, I realized that walking four to five hours a day was too time-consuming. If only I could jog part of it — that would abbreviate my time spent training. I started jogging between telephone poles without my knees swelling. Slowly and cautiously, I increased the distance. Two months later, I was up to running six miles without my knees protesting. Being highly competitive, I relished proving the doctors wrong. Of course, it only took nine and a half years to do so.

While practicing, I suffered a devastating loss, a dear friend — my senior by one year — suddenly and inexplicably died. His life’s mission had been to mentor women to accept themselves and reach their fullest potential. He firmly believed that people should let nothing hold them back from attaining their goals.

Soon after his death, while on one of my runs, a crazy thought entered my mind: what if I could run the LA Marathon? I remembered viewing that event on television as a child, thinking that the people who crossed the finish line were gods. I wanted to be one of those gods. I wanted to know what it felt like to traverse the prized finish line, even if it meant I had to crawl across it.

The seed was planted. I had only four months to get ready. I took my self-taught training to an all-time high and prepared as if my very existence depended on it — actually, it did. I knew that if I didn’t train to my fullest, I would tear my body apart and the doctors’ diagnosis would win. I wasn’t about to let that happen. I was on a mission: I would run the LA Marathon to honor my fallen friend and fulfill one of my life’s greatest goals. I trained eight times a week, seven days a week — twice on Wednesdays. I dedicated my final quarter-mile sprint of every run to my lost friend, as a way to remember his teachings and life’s work.

My hard effort paid off. I celebrated my friend’s memory by sprinting across the finish line of the LA Marathon strong and solid — he would have been so proud. Since then, I have crossed the finish lines of many marathons, half marathons, 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, 12Ks, obstacle courses and Mud Runs all over the United States to the amazement of my doctors. I select one individual for whom I run each race. This is my way of honoring the tremendous physical or emotional impediments they are facing, or for those who have lost their battle and passed on.

I’m often asked why I run, to which I always reply, “I run because I can, for those who no longer can.” Through my own personal mantra, “Just take it… embrace it! That’s why you’re here,” I remind myself that the aches and pains I experience while training and racing are nothing compared to the suffering those whom I revere must endure. This is why I run.

~Cindy Hanna

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