The first time I really ran was in the heat and humidity of a strange city. I was a smoker at the time, slightly overweight and completely unsure of my ability to run any distance. I went running for the company this time, not for a desire to run, but all the same I found myself proud of what I had done and wondering if this was something that I might enjoy. Over the years since then there have been a few attempts to start running again, but none of them really stuck. In the back of my mind I always figured it was just not something I could really do, something that I could never learn to enjoy. But I was wrong about this. Sometimes it just takes someone to believe in you, even when you don't.

In the beginning, running is a dream. The first mile flows by easily, your feet feel light and your body begins to come alive. It requires almost no effort, allowing you ample time to think and feel pride in what you are doing. You feel like finally you are doing something good, and the effortless of it makes you wonder why you have not done this all your life. You think of all the new places you can explore as you run, witnessing the world coming alive as you tread along in peace. You are running short distances, taking it easy, slowly settling into your pace and you start to think that this will be a great experience. You may notice a little pain, a little fatigue, but it's easy enough to ignore.

Eventually though, you hit the second stage. You start to run farther and challenge yourself more. Your shins start to hurt. A blister is forming on your foot. Your lungs are beginning to ache and you can feel a cramp starting to form in your side. It becomes somewhat of a struggle to keep going and your euphoria is quickly lost. At this point, all of the things you ignored in stage 1 suddenly seem insurmountable and you wonder how you can keep going. You wonder what you were thinking when you decided to do this, after all isn't running bad for you knees? Sure, maybe it would improve your health but can all of this pain really be good for you? At this point, perhaps you quit. You'll rationalize it, saying you just aren't made to run, you just don't have it in you. Perhaps though, you'll keep moving on to the next stage.

In the third state, you start to think that maybe everything would be fine if you could just get rid of all those external things that are making it hard. If you just had the right shoes, you could run without pain and then it would be easy again. Maybe what you really need are some running clothes that help to keep you cool. Perhaps you are just running at the wrong time of the day, or at the wrong place, and that's why you are struggling. At this stage you try everything you can to change those things which you think are making it hard on you, and ultimately you will realize that while all of these things help, they do not make it easy again.

Once you come to this realization, you have several options. First, you can quit. There is no shame, perhaps indeed running is just not for you. However, if you've made it this far you probably realize on some level this is just a cop out, an excuse you are making to avoid having to face the difficulties you are having. If you realize that quitting is really not going to serve your purposes, you may opt to just keep going and vow to keep running no mater how much you hate it. While this is also a valid option, you know it is not the one that will truly bring you what you seek. The final option, however, requires a leap of faith. You cannot know the outcome, there are no guarantees, there is not even a means to speculate what may happen. But, if you are brave (and if you examine yourself and your true desires, you will be) you will take that leap.

Stage four is acceptance. You relax and accept the fact that running will never be easy. You accept that no amount of equipment, fine weather or scenery will make running enjoyable. You accept that while you can minimize the pain, it will still always be present. You begin to see that running is not a means to an end, it is a process. It will never be easy, because you will continue to challenge yourself and grow in your abilities. You realize that earlier you were seeking the answer in things outside of you, but now you see that your state of mind is the only thing that really influences your running. When things get hard, you keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, not because that's what you have to but because you have faith that doing so will pay off and get you where you want to be.

Finally you arrive at stage five. This process may take years, and you may retreat to earlier levels several times on your journey. Stage five is the pinnacle of running. You've learned to accept the things you hate about running, perhaps even embrace them as reminders of how far you have come. You feel good about your accomplishments and progress, allowing yourself to feel proud of how far you have come while still remembering that this is a journey that has no end. You feel peaceful, connected and alive. And then one day while running, it happens. Out of nowhere, the early feelings of euphoria and effortlessness return and carry you through your run. Sure, perhaps at this point it is still not truly easy, but somehow it feels like it is and you smile as you keep going, one foot in front of the other.

If you are new to running, or stuck at some point in your running, let this be a guide to your journey. When you are feeling stuck and ready to throw in the towel, challenge yourself to take that leap of faith. It may work out, it may not, either way it does not matter. What matters is that you are willing to take that leap and allow yourself to find out where it will take you. Remember that you cannot change the experience of running, but you can change your perception of it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, not because you have to, but because you want to see where that next step will take you.

I think ccunning makes a good point about acceptance, accepting that running (or really any kind of physical activity involving large amounts of exertion, whether it's a little effort over a long period or intense efforts over several short periods) sucks, and eventually embracing that suckage. There's a certain zen moment you get in doing stuff that kind of hurts, it's a kind of suffering that sets you free, helps you stop worrying about the little stuff, lets you realize how simple life is: if you want to make something happen, you try to do it or you do not, and it doesn't matter if it happens or not or how bad you want it to happen - what matters is that you gave enough of a fuck to try, and that you got an answer when you did instead of spending the rest of your life wondering if it was ever in the cards for you.

Like a lot of things that are worth doing, the questions in running are simple. Can I finish the next lap, the next mile, how long can I outlast this cramp, can I beat my last time, those are all very simple, A or B, True or False, yes or no questions. And I think another interesting point that ccunning makes is that at some point, the runner stops making excuses and stops complicating the answer to those questions, they stop saying "oh it's the shoes, it's this fucking concrete," and they just do it.

A lot of people don't understand this feeling, any kind of intense physical exertion to them is just painful and they want to get it over with, but I couldn't live a life in which I never broke a sweat.

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