Last Sunday morning I skipped church and drove to the lake. Not to fish, but to run. I parked in one of the lots on the west side of White Rock Lake in Dallas, about halfway between the north and south ends, and assembled my gear. I was running the lake by myself this time; Cyndi was attending a weekend yoga workshop.
Circling a lake is a commitment. There are no shortcuts home. You have to run all the way around, no matter how tired you might be. And this trail is nine miles around. I knew I’d be stiff, sore, and thirsty by the time I got back to the car, so I had my Advil and large drink ready. After all, I was increasing my regular distance (and by regular, I mean once a week at most) by 200%.
My first time to run at White Rock Lake was in December 1985, during my attempt at the Dallas White Rock Marathon. Sadly, I dropped out of the race at mile 15 due to plantar fasciitis in my right foot. I returned in December 1987 with a van-load of friends and we all completed the marathon together. It was my second marathon finish and still stands as my personal best time.
Once, in February 1998, when Cyndi and I visited Dallas to celebrate her fortieth birthday, we awoke at 7:00 AM and drove to White Rock Lake for a morning nine-miler. The trail was full of people just like us, wearing clothes just like us, and it was invigorating to be around so many other distant runners. The energy in the air was contagious. Later, after the adrenaline wore down and the sweat stopped dripping, Cyndi and I drove to La Madeleine for a low-impact breakfast in front of the fireplace. After that, we planned our Dallas trips around finding time to run at the Lake. Of course, Cyndi always ran off and left me, but since we drove to and from the lake in the same car it seemed like we were doing it together. Those mornings are some of our favorite stories.
This run, last Sunday, on the final weekend of April, was something I’d been planning for weeks. I was celebrating a big anniversary. Forty years ago, in May 1978, I started running. I’d just completed my first senior year at the University of Oklahoma when I returned home to Hobbs, New Mexico to work as a summer engineer for Getty Oil Company. Within my first week I realized my plans for the summer were in trouble: the girl I’d dated the previous summer, who attended New Mexico Junior College, and whom I’d hoped to date again, had been seeing a track-and-field jock during the school year. A javelin thrower, of all people. How could I compete for her attention against a guy like that? I needed something besides good grades in college to win her back.
After analyzing my dilemma, I did something uncharacteristic for me – something that shaped the rest of my life. I decided to run. If I intended to compete with a jock for the affections of Cyndi Richardson, I had to do something physical, and running was the easiest thing I could think of. It was the first voluntary run of my life. In fact, other than an occasional touch football game or church softball game, it was my first voluntary attempt at any sport besides ping pong.
I ran almost every day that summer in Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes (a big mistake) and Levi cutoffs (an even bigger mistake). Eventually, after beating my knees and chafing my legs, I realized the importance of buying real running shoes and better shorts.
My campaign to win Cyndi’s heart proved successful in spite of my marginal performance as an athlete. I suppose it was my charm that she fell in love with. By August I was enjoying my daily runs, so I kept it up when I went back to school. And surprisingly, I stuck to it; I ran four or five times a week that entire school year. Never in my wildest imagination did I anticipate that daily running would become instrumental in how I lived my life, how I planned my time, where I traveled for fun and leisure, how I met my friends, and how I ended up serving in local government. The daily dose alone on my feet became an integral part of my next forty years. In fact, those nine miles last Sunday morning pushed my lifetime total to 37,495 miles. And yet, all I wanted on that day in May 1978, when I put on my shoes and stumbled through three miles, was to win back a girl.
Some of the most important decisions we make are the stories we choose to live with. I often worry that, as a writer and as a teacher, I fall too often on the same old stores time and time again. Surely, I must be boring people in my repetition. Even worse, I hear myself telling the same old stores to Cyndi, most often stores of our early days when we first fell in love with each other. And when I read back through old journals I am surprised how often I write about running at White Rock Lake or Lady Bird Trail, or about trips up the same old trails in the Guadalupe Mountains, or even the same stores from my Daily Bible. And, well, here I am, writing about a forty-year story once again.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32