Posts filed under ‘2007 Resolutions’

Starting Lines

The Runner’s Guide To The Meaning Of Life
Amby Burfoot
Winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon
And Runner’s World Complete Book of Running

Starting Lines

How To Create A Life Of Perpetual Beginnings

A starting line is the best, most exciting place I can imagine. When I stand on one, I feel fully alive – scared, yes, but also energized, focused, and prepared for the big challenge ahead. My head buzzes, my stomach grumbles, my feet twitch. My entire self – mind and body – is fully engaged. I can’t wait to get going.

And I’m not talking only about the starting lines at running races. I’m talking about all beginnings. I’m talking about your first French class, your first day in college, your first day in a new relationship, your first day as a parent, your first day as an entrepreneur. And, yes, your first half-marathon. There is nothing like the thrill of the first time.

When I think back over my own life, with its full share of first days, I recall that they all terrified me. I didn’t always go willingly. And yet I wouldn’t have given up those days for anything. They were some of the best days of my life.

Beginnings are like that – both frightening and rewarding. Because of the fear factor, too many people shy away. They never take the steps forward that they should. They hesitate; they fumble about; they procrastinate; they count all the things that could go wrong.

Psychologists recognize this nearly universal tendency and have given it a name: catastrophizing. Faced with the need to imagine what might happen in new situations, many of us get caught up in the bad stuff. We see mainly darkness, not light. We get frozen in place; we don’t get ourselves to the starting line.

Running has taught me, perhaps more than anything else, that there’s no reason to fear starting lines…or other new beginnings. Over the years, I’ve gone out on tens of thousands of runs and entered thousands of races. Many of them have turned out badly. I’ve broken a bone in my foot, been attacked by a family of angry crows, been chased by snarling dogs, and nearly struck by lightning.

Believe me, I could go on and on. I’ve had to hitchhike home on days when I couldn’t complete a simple 5-mile workout, and I’ve dropped out of dozens of races, unable to reach the finish line.

All in all, I’ve had plenty of reasons never to run again. But, I’ve kept at it because I’ve learned that these disappointments fade fast and aren’t nearly as bad as they seem at first. The Finns, I’ve recently been told, have an expression that neatly drives home this point. It goes something like this” “Whatever you’re imagining won’t turn out nearly so bad”

When I first began running as a child, I had nothing to worry about. It was pure fun: those summer evenings, racing around barefoot in the backyard, playing tag or catching fireflies until mom came out with a glass of lemonade and a reminder that it was almost time for bed.

By high school, things had already grown more complex. I was playing on the jayvee basketball team…sort of. Actually, I was the worst player on the team, so I didn’t get to play much. Coach Portelance put me in a game only once or twice and always when we were losing by 37 points with just 21 seconds to go.

But my teammates weren’t much better than me. We lost most of our games, and it wasn’t unusual for Coach to get frustrated over our ineptness. One day at practice, he simply threw up his hands in despair and hollered, “You guys aren’t accomplishing anything on the court today. Get out there and run the cross-country course.”

We all groaned. It was hard to imagine anything worse than being forced to run the hilly 3 mile cross-country course behind the high school.

But something totally unexpected – and in fact, life-changing – happened for shortly after we began running. That’s the beauty of starting lines. Until you begin a new venture, you never know what awaits you.

A mile or so into the cross-country course, it became clear that I was a better distance runner than anyone else on the basketball team. I left the others far behind. They were far better jumpers and dribblers and shooters than me in the gym, but here I had found my niche.

From that moment on, my life took a new direction. The next year, I tried out for the track and cross-country teams rather than basketball. Form there, it was a straight line to a Boston Marathon victory and later to a great job at Runner’s World Magazine. Running has introduced me to hundreds of my best friends and given me opportunities I never dreamed about in my childhood.

My life is no more charmed than anyone else’s. You name it – death, divorce, moving to a different part of the country. I’ve had to cope with life’s brutal challenges, just like every single adult must do.

I’ve managed by convincing myself that new beginnings – starting lines – are my friend. This confidence comes, of course, from my experiences in running. On the starting line, I calm myself, I breathe deeply and slowly. I tell myself that I can get through this… and then I am ready.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s the familiar old saw. I sepand on it: Nothing started, nothing experienced, nothing learned, nothing finished.

Starting lines are one of the most important stations in life. We need to do more than just avoid them. We need to actively seek them out. Otherwise, we grow stagnant. We will disappear into black holes.

When you see the first hazy edges of a starting line begin to form in your life, don’t avoid it. Don’t look the other way. Try to bring the starting line into sharper focus. Consider it’s potential. Remember that if you don’t go to the starting line, you will never view the whole course with all it’s possibilities.

And you will certainly never see the glories of the finish line.

I just thought I would share this.



January 17, 2007 at 9:57 pm Leave a comment


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