The Three Stages of Running - and Why Stage 3 is My Favorite
It was the simplest expression of how the meaning of running changes and evolves through your life I had ever heard. And it brought one of those moments when I sat nodding in agreement, knowing I would remember the reference for the rest of my life.
My epiphany was offered by Anthony Reed, Co-Founder of The Black Marathoners Association, as a guest on a favorite running podcast, The Rookie Runners Podcast, hosted by Ray Garraud, a runner from my home area of Hampton Roads. Anthony Reed is a genuine history maker, having run 131 marathons in 50 states and seven continents.
Reed is inspiring on multiple levels but hearing him describe the “Three Stages of Running” hit home the most. Reed shared the perspective as an answer to Ray's question of offering advice to new runners. He referenced the knowledge as coming from a book he read in his early days of running, but did not quote the title or author, so I'll have to research the source further.
The stages though, made perfect and beautiful sense to me:
Stage One: Jogging
He describes this as the time when you begin running. When you are introducing your body and mind to the sport.
I was in this stage for quite a long time. The first time I attempted running was so traumatic to my system that it took weeks for me to gather the nerve to give it a second go. I wasn't running, of course, I was jogging, so the description is on point. And, like most beginners, I didn't jog the entire time. I executed very carefully timed walk/runs. In the first week I was only running, or let's just say jogging, for thirty seconds a a time. The walk/jogs continued with incremental increases in distance spent not walking.
Certainly, this first category is never given the credit it deserves. In memory, pushing through the weeks of uncomfortable walk/jogs, moving into jog/walk, and triumphantly progressing to jogging an entire mile without stopping took as much perseverance as training for my first marathon. I will note that I spent my jogging phase from May through November, meaning my early running experience came through southeastern Virginia's hottest weather.
He defines the second stage, again, with simplistic clarity.
Stage Two: Racing
My very first running race took place in November by competing and completing a 10K on Thanksgiving Day. The Turkey Trot, exuberantly organized by our area's Tidewater Striders nonprofit. When I clean the smudges from my rear-view mirror, I can see that my first road race was still very much in my Stage One jogging phase. I spent the miles jogging and walking, though mostly jogging, with a grand cast of Thanksgiving Day themed characters. By the time I earned the 10K tee, I had been moving my body through space for six months and discovered running to be something I sincerely enjoyed. I wasn't quite ready to think of myself as a racer yet, and consciously held back enthusiasm for spending reasonably large sums of money on events.
It was the Shamrock Half Marathon that sent me spiraling into Stage Two. The racing stage didn't begin for me on that freezing rain-soaked morning, but during the training. I still can't pinpoint the exact time of stage transition, but as I spent more and more time on my Twitter and Instagram, posting runs, talking about runs, hearting and hopping through the parade of pics and posts from fellow runners preparing the same event as I, the competition hook was deeply planted and I was all in. Running became about racing.
First Shamrock, then to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, to my wife's hometown in Ohio, to the massive Rock 'n Roll Virginia Beach event, and on to as many of the Half Marathons on the local racing calendar my budget would allow. For three straight years all I wanted to do was race. The only thing that mattered was scrounging and saving the money for getting another race on the schedule. Racing half marathons fueled my desire to race marathons. Training for my first marathon consumed my psyche and time like few things in my entire life.
I didn't get to run my second marathon, even though the organizer gave me a shirt. Thousands of other runners held deferrals or the promise of running the miles virtually because of the Covid global tragedy.
The pandemic opened the door for me to enter the final stage:
Stage Three: Running
When you enter the running stage of your life, most of the things you once held important don't seem to matter much anymore. You run for your health. You run for yourself.
Like my transition to the racing stage, I don't quite have a time stamp for when I entered Stage Three. It happened with a slow, sublime ease. The lack of racing during the pandemic offered me the opportunity to go back to running at its very basic roots. After the anger and disappointment of not being able to race, I found myself enjoying my runs more and more without having a race on the schedule. I started knocking out the miles simply because I loved to run.
I stopped worrying about the calendar. I stopped worrying about my pace and my time. I stopped worrying about trying to keep up on social media. I discovered, or rediscovered, or maybe I merely evolved to embrace why running was so important to me.
I am not one of the runners rushing back to the start lines now that restrictions are easing. It isn't that I've lost interest in racing, on the contrary, I'm currently enjoying a 100-mile virtual challenge as a means to get my backside moving again for another cycle of marathon training. I'll run my second marathon this coming December, also virtually. My wife and I signed up for a local 5K this September, and we both are keeping our fingers crossed for an in-person race for the 50th Anniversary of Shamrock in our hometown of Virginia Beach. I'm also exploring moving my personal fitness to a first Ultra next Spring.
So it isn't that Stage Three means I've stopped racing. It means the races aren't why I'm running. I'm not training for PR's, not worried about more medals, not interested in losing expensive vacation time to achievement. I'm picking and choosing some races for fun. What comes first, and it now comes first every day, is my health. I run for my health. Reed elaborated on recognizing Stage Three as a time when running becomes stress free.
I am absolutely delighted that I've made it to this final stage of my running adventure, for now I get to spend the rest of my running days in quiet celebration of what matters. I am so fortunate to have found running as a means for fitness and health. And that's both physical health and mental health.
Thank you, Mr. Reed, for shining a sharp headlamp on the simple. And thank you Ray Garraud for such a fun and informative podcast. Check out The Rookie Runners Podcast when you can. And take a long look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what stage you're running through.