Why I Run: Ben’s Story 5

In 2006 I ran a 5k with my son, without any formal training.  I did it for my son’s school challenge because he wanted me to. I finished dead last in my age group, but I did it and that was it. I was happy to do it but as a runner I was pretty pathetic.  My running career went on the shelf and my son moved on to other things.  For him it was about the challenge and the recognition he got at school, not running.  Little did we know it was also about the ADHD neither of us knew we had at the time.

Over the next 5 years, I didn’t really feel good about myself, physically or mentally.  I’ve struggled with the mental part my entire life. I often don’t feel like I’m a good person, anti-social even.  It’s hard for me to make relationships work.  When you have ADHD, you tend to latch on to people that you like and shove away those that don’t seem to take an interest in you. It can come off as extremely rude and self centered. We aren’t stuck up, we just don’t know how to interact with strangers unless there is a commonality that usually is about us.  We also have little patience for people who appear to be weak or needy and often lack the empathy to help them. As we were struggling with finding out our son had ADHD I realized everything they said about him was a reflection of me.

Spring 2011 I decided I had enough. I love food and I love beer and that is never going to change. My weight wasn’t going to change either if I didn’t get more active. I had to get healthy and feel better about myself. I went for a simple run.  How little did I know that my mental health was about to change more than my physical.

I learned to run a mile without stopping.  I learned to complete a 5K. I then realized that I could go farther and decided to sign up for the 2011 Route 66 quarter marathon because it had a medal. These little trinkets of hope mean nothing to some runners. However, to someone living with a constant internal conflict of self worth they are golden. I finished the race and felt good about myself.  I got home that day and vowed to myself and anyone who would listen that I wouldrun a half marathon. Never a full marathon though, because that is just crazy.

As I trained for the Route 66 half marathon that next summer, I realized the million thoughts that  bounced through my head blurred the fear of pain or distance.  Those rapid fire thoughts driven by ADHD can destroy your regular sense of self on an ordinary day; but they become fuel when running.  They won’t make you faster, but they can move you farther.

November 18th 2012, I ran a half marathon. I was invincible and had that shiny medal again to prove it.  However, marathons aren’t meant for people like me. Middle-aged self- deprecating overweight men on the verge of turning 40 don’t run marathons.  That kind of lunacy is for fast, healthy 20 and 30 something’s.  I signed up for another half marathon instead.

Spring 2013 a bomb went off in Boston, and a bomb went off inside of me.  The OKC memorial marathon, just a week away, seemed dark. Some questioned if the race should go on at all. I shoved away that cloud of darkness and hate and so did the race organizers.  I vowed to run the half marathon in OKC with purpose for a close friend who lives there. I wore the blue and yellow for Boston and beat my half marathon record by 4 minutes.  I felt strong again. I felt crazy, and you know what crazy people do. Crazy people run marathons.

On my 40th birthday one month later, my best friend, my wife, the enabler for all my odd life endeavors gave me the best birthday gift ever. The one person who that puts up unconditionally with a needy, self-serving person such as myself, enrolled me in a training program with Fleet Feet Sports Tulsa and got me another new pair of running shoes. These shoes would be special because they were going to be strapped to my feet when i…

ran. a. marathon… <gulp>.  The Route 66 Marathon.

My wife thought I could do this.  I looked around at all my friends who do amazing things.  I thought to myself, I can do amazing things, too. So I trained, for 19 weeks and I trained with purpose.  I listened, I trusted my training, and I learned.  I ran, I raced again, and I learned.  I made new friends, I opened up to strangers, and I learned. Running was fun again and races weren’t stressful anymore. I was going to do this.

On November 24th, 2013 I crossed the finish line of the Route 66 Marathon with a smile on my face.  Perhaps it was frozen there by the 20 degree temperatures.  It was the worst possible conditions that I could ever think to run a marathon in and I didn’t let it stop me. Whatever I have been running from was beaten that day.

All this time I was using the excuse that I wanted to get healthy and feel better.  Truth is, I am healthier, I do feel better, and I don’t feel nearly the amount of guilt I did in the past about eating food.  But that’s not quite what I discovered about myself.  You see, I’ve been running my entire life.

I’ve been running from my insecurity. I’ve been running from social awkwardness. I’ve been running from my estranged relationship with my parents.  I’ve been running from the deep depression of childhood that still lingers. I’ve been running from the fact that I don’t see religion, politics, or societal norms like the vast majority of those around me. I’ve been running from my redneck roots.  All the time running without ever moving my legs.

I look at my son sometimes when he frustrates me and wonder if my actions as a child were what drove so many friends and family away from me.  I wonder if he can stand in a room full of people and feel completely alone. It serves as a reminder that I have to work that much harder to make sure he knows that I care about him.  The problems he faces are not his fault and I can’t give up on him like so many people had given up on me in the past. It also helps me understand that children living with ADHD can be sweet and loving but they are also often completely disconnected. They love you, they just don’t know how to say it or express it.

This summer my son and I ran a 5K together again after 7 long years.  When I started training for my marathon he decided to enroll in junior varsity cross country as a freshman. I have no idea if my actions over the past few years made him decide to start running again. I also know asking him that question would probably get varied results.  He’s too cool to admit that I have any influence in his life.  In the end it doesn’t really matter if he decided on his own or not. What matters is that he has taken an interest and it gives us a small connection in the constantly disconnected world our disorder creates.

In March my son and I will honor Boston by running stage #164 of the One Run For Boston from Keifer, OK to Jenks, OK.  It is a 336 stage relay from Los Angeles to Boston. It will be a training run for the next race we plan to run together.  Through encouragement from me and his own desire to have one of those shiny medals around his neck, he has decided to run the half marathon in OKC at 15 years old.  I can’t express how proud I am of him for having the courage to do something that I didn’t accomplish until I was 39.  For the next 3 months I will not be looking forward to finishing my 2nd marathon. I’ll be looking forward to crossing the finish line where my son will be waiting for me with his first race medal around this neck.  I understand already what that day will mean to him.

So what does this all mean?  Why do I run?  I run because every time I start running towards a goal I stop running away from everything else.