I guess you could say I have been a runner all my life. Early on, Kim, a classmate of mine challenged me to get out and run the Louisiana levies with him. I was about 50 pounds overweight at the time and was pretty sure I was going to die each time I ran. His encouragement to me was pretty simple, “You ran track in high school, surely you can make it to the next pole!” and off we would go until he thought I had enough. When our families moved to Vancouver together he continued the encouragement, and I continued to run.
It wasn’t long before my wife started running as well. She found similar encouragement from her sister and a friend who would get up early several mornings a week while I stayed in with the kids and would run a few miles each time.
When we left Canada to return to graduate school we didn’t have a lot of money, so running the trail around the park near our house became our family’s recreation. Usually it was just my wife and I running while the kids walked the trail or waited for us to finish our exercise. Now, when I say “running” I’m talking three miles maximum. And I am not sure our speed actually qualifies as “running”.
The nice thing about running is that it is very portable and relatively inexpensive. Running became one of the things that came to identify and differentiate our family. When we moved to Northwest Arkansas the first time in 1990, it seemed like we were the only people in the area who exercised by running. We were certainly the only ones in our circles of influence. We would grab the kids and the dog and run over to the local high school track to do our laps where we would see a walker or two, but seldom any runners. FYI, Northwest Arkansas has changed significantly since then. Today it is truly a running and cycling community. We can hardly go on our regular morning (5:00 AM) runs on the new Razorback Greenway trails without seeing multiple runners and regular cyclists.
In those days, running was simply a form of exercise and fitness for us. We didn’t know of any other couples who ran, had never heard of Runner’s World magazine, and if fitness and running stores existed, we certainly didn’t know about them. So, I guess you could say we were pretty surprised when our son, who was in his first year at university announced that he was going to run a marathon. I mean, who does that? This is the same guy who had earlier resisted all of our attempts to get the kids to eat a little healthier and run with us for exercise. We were so proud of his run that we took his metal and bib and had them framed in a shadow box. We were certain that he would have an office some day and would be proud to display this feat of youthful fitness. Well the office, seemed to be a long time coming, so we hung this picture and the picture of his second marathon finish in our computer room above the desk. This would be the start of the Hawk Family Wall of Pain.
It wasn’t long after this that I changed jobs and began working with a former Wal-Mart executive who had also completed a marathon. So when we travelled together, we would get up in the mornings and run together. While he was inspiring, I was still only running about three miles at a time.
I was also a fair weather runner at the time. So during one particularly cold winter, my wife and I joined a local fitness center where we took up spin classes. This had to be one of the most intense forms of exercise I had ever engaged in. I may be a fair weather runner, but if there is anything I hate more than running in the cold, it is exercising indoors. I will never forget the day that winter after I had completed a spin class, I told my wife, “If I can do this for an hour, surely I can run for an hour!” So the following Saturday morning when I was scheduled to attend a spin class, I opted out for a one hour run outside. To my amazement, I actually finished it fairly strongly. Not to be outdone, my very competitive wife ran the following week for an hour and five minutes.
It wasn’t long before we cancelled the gym memberships and began to run regularly. Before we knew it, we had signed up for our first half marathon. We were fortunate that we chose the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. It was small compared to the number of runners it hosts today, but it was fun, filled with country music, lots of fans cheering us on, a great city to visit, and a country music concert the evening following the run. Though we were hurting a lot, we had achieved a victory that was beyond our comprehension, and we were hooked. We decided to register for the full marathon the following year, and again, had a great time, even though we hurt even more than after the half.
Of course, we were so proud of ourselves, that we had our pictures framed and hung them right beside those belonging to our son. Before you knew it, our two adult daughters noticed the pictures hanging in the computer room, and, not to be outdone, registered for their own half marathons.
Since then, our son has gone on to become an Ironman, having completed three full ironman distance races, several halves and training for a fourth full. Now, I thought a 26.2 mile marathon was tough, but these guys start out with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and wrap up with a full 26.2 mile marathon, for a total of 140.6 miles. No wonder they call them Ironmen. These things take 9-12 hours to complete. I’m always exhausted when I go just to be a spectator. Oh yes, we have a family member present at each of these, because we want to be there in case it kills him. I’ve decided that when I am ready to check out of this world, I will just register for one of these and go out with a bang, because I am certain it will do me in.
When my oldest daughter married, it became apparent to her husband that running is the thing we (the Hawk Family) do. Eventually, our reluctant son-in-law found the motivation (which for him means destination) he needed to run his first half-marathon. Some ten or more years later the other two kids married and their spouses also joined the Wall of Pain. Our youngest daughter’s husband joined us in a half marathon while they were engaged, and our daughter-in-law joined on a 10K, which was allowed to count, just to help her get started. I say allowed to count, because, while she is an athlete (university swim team) she was not a runner, and certainly not a marathoner at all before she met our son.
My wife and I just got back this weekend from watching our daughter-in-law complete her first half Ironman triathlon (that’s her in the pic). Just take the distances above and cut them in half. That’s 70.3 miles. What an accomplishment!! Especially for a person who never envisioned this of herself. Who knows what’s next. Even if she decides, this stuff is not for her, she has learned some valuable lessons through this experience.
I have watched and participated in a lot of sports. However, there is truly nothing quite like finishing one of these races for the first time, whether it’s a 10K, half marathon, marathon, or half Ironman, or Ironman. You simply know that you have done something few others will ever experience. You have pushed yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of and won. You learn that with grit and determination, few things in life are impossible. You learn the power of the mind to take you where the body doesn’t think it can. You learn the power and value of discipline. You learn the importance of taking care of both your body and your mind. You learn that “bad days” or “bad runs” happen, but don’t define you. You learn to get up and give it all you’ve got, even when you don’t feel like it. You learn the value of support and encouragement from those who care about you. Sometimes those who care for you are the strangers running next to you who recognize you’re struggling. These “strangers” offering an encouraging word can mean more than you would have ever expected. You know they have once been where you are right now, and want you to know that you can push through and win. Some will even slow down and run with you through part of the race, just to help you along. Who does that?
Today there are more than fifty pictures on the Hawk Wall of Pain. I keep thinking that one day the kids will want to take their pics with them and put them on their own wall. But for now, they are a wonderful reminder of one of the ties that bind our family. No matter where we are, or how far apart we may live from one another, there is always a race we can register for and run together to add just one more memory to lives well lived. And for that I am grateful.
Gotta go. Gotta get registered for our Fall half-marathon. This one is to celebrate my wife’s birthday. She changes age brackets this fall and is convinced she will earn first place in her age group (as if she needs to do it again). Our son chose the race. He said the course is flat and the race is relatively small, so she will definitely be better positioned to achieve her goal. In my eyes she has already won, regardless of the time on the clock or the place she finishes. She is the one who keeps me going, and going, and going. I’m looking forward to resting someday. In the meantime I think I’ll run.
You may be asking, “What’s this post have to do with leadership?” I expect that you already understand it. If not, just give me a call.