Monday, July 2, 2012

"I want to look good naked..."

So, in the movie "American Beauty", there is a scene soon after Kevin Spacey's character, Lester Bernham, undergoes his "awakening, where he decides to get back in shape. He heads outside of his white picket fence in sweatpants and sweatshirt, and jogs along side his two gay neighbors who appear to jog every morning.

The two men look at Lester, and mention that they didn't know that he liked to run. Lester responds that he has just started, and was looking for some pointers into how to get back in shape, quickly. The one jogger then asks Lester if he just wants to lose weight, or if he wants to have increased strength and flexibility. Lester pauses for a moment and then says.

"I want to look good naked."

There's just something about this exchange that I like quite a bit. I think I like that it speaks to the innocence, or simplicity of when each of us began running. And a little bit about where we go from there, how our goals, our motives may evolve over time.

Because if you are like me, when you look back, you'll find that few of your original motivations remain long after you began. Cause I don't know many people who, in those initial first few runs, expressed a desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon, to run a six minute mile, or complete a 50k.

No, the goals that I hear are quite different, though not in a bad way. Goals that are more vague, like to get back into shape, to lose weight, or in the case of Lester Burnham, to look better naked.

So, what happens?

What happens the longer we run?

What causes our goals to change?

Cause I don't know about you, but when I started I wanted to get back into shape, to lose a little weight, and if I am super honest, look better naked (sorry Mom). But one would assume that the fact that I have different goals today would logically be a result of accomplishing, or crossing off the old ones. But I can't say that's exactly true.

Because I don't recall a moment where I thought that I was now "in shape", or that I had lost enough weight.

I don't remember a moment like that.

And yet, somewhere along the way, they changed. And while I could sit here and list the various goals that have come and gone, the ones that hang on walls, and ones that have fallen by the wayside, I'm not sure they really matter. Cause the more I think about it, it seems far less important to know what, specifically, our goals change to be, but how they change to be.

How there seems to be a pattern in the way in which they change.

And I've noticed this pattern, simply because I've watched it happen.

I've watched as friends who joined gyms to get in shape, kept working even after they worried their arm muscles looked too big. I've watched as friends who started running to keep with their girlfriend, branch out and do a triathlon. And I've watched as forwarded e-mail confirmations have trickle into my inbox, from people who once swore to me that they would never run a marathon.

Cause it seems to me, entirely possible, that there is something magical about what we do. Something magical about finding a passion in physical activity that awakens something within us.

That somewhere along the way, something we began to make you look at us, and see someone cool, someone fit, someone sexy, changed into something entirely different.

That somewhere this pattern forms, and our goals stopped being based on how you look at us, but rather how we look at ourselves.

Because, when it comes down to it, a runner always knows.

We always know what it took to finish that race, to run that fast, or that far. We always know the path that led here. We always know when we could have done better, and when we did our best.

We always know.

I believe that's how it works. I believe that because of this fact, because we always know what it took, no one has to validate any of it. That unlike so many other avenues of our lives, our jobs, our relationships, ones where we may seek your approval for that validation, somehow in running it makes little difference.

Because I've never been able to talk you into thinking you had a good race. I've never been able to lie to myself and block out what I knew to be true. That even if we are able to impress you with the distances or speeds we run, it rarely compares to the level by which we may impress ourselves.

And I believe, in that, lies the magic of what we do.

The magic of this process when running stops being anything else, stops being a weight loss plan, a family tradition, a pick-up line. When it becomes something else entirely.

The magic of when it becomes yours.

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