Running Rites of Passage

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By Rich Rein

Each culture seems to have it’s own rites of passage. In the early days of our country, big game hunts allowed a boy to become a man. In modern religions, traditions like baptism, first communion, and confirmation mark key transition points. And if Facebook is any indication, the first day of school is as important a day as ever.

As a runner, there are numerous rites of passage to celebrate as well. Whether you just started getting serious recently, or have logged thousands of miles in your lifetime, you can probably think back to that point in your life when you first used this phrase to describe yourself:

“I am a runner.

Maybe it was an optimistic statement after your first jog around the block, or maybe you waited until after completing your first 5K. Maybe it was when you noticed the amount of laundry piled up in the corner of your bedroom tripling in size, or maybe it was after the first time you laced up a pair of running shoes while on vacation.

Perhaps it was while turning in early on a Friday night (to get some extra sleep before your weekend long run), or perhaps it was a title bestowed upon you by someone else as you headed down to the locker room to change while the rest of your work team headed out for lunch. Or, if you are anything like me, the title still doesn’t quite seem to fit – at least not yet.

What is a Rite of Passage?

I was reading an article recently which defined a rite of passage in the following way:

“A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual that presents a man with a particular challenge that needs to be overcome in order for the man to grow or progress. It signals to both the man himself and to his community that he is ready to take on the responsibilities and privileges of mature manhood.

Ignoring the gender-specific imagery for a minute, this statement seems to align pretty well with what has been holding me back from considering myself a runner. Reading a little further, this same article breaks the elements of a rite of passage into 3 phases:

“Traditionally, rites of passage have 3 phases: separation, transition, and reincorporation. First a young man leaves behind his old life and comfort zone. Next he enters an in-between period where he learns new behaviors and ways of thinking, and strives to pass certain challenges. Finally, he remerges into a community that recognizes his accomplishment and new status.

The Marathon Rite of Passage

This year (last December actually), I sat down and had a conversation with my youngest sister (a division two cross country athlete in college – definitely someone I consider a runner). The exact conversation is a bit of a blur, but I remember one of the first few sentences being something like “this year I am going to run a marathon”.

As that dream crystallized, certain steps occurred along the way. There was the registration process (nothing like writing a big check to prove to yourself that you are serious). Then came some races in subzero temperatures (because I knew myself well enough to realize that nothing short of spending more money on registration fees and having hundreds of strangers to be accountable to would have jump-started my training). Then came the real start of “the plan”.

As the calendar creeps ever closer to October 5th, 2014, I have continued to picture the pivotal moment, my own personal time to rejoin “a community that recognizes his accomplishment and new status” – the moment when I cross the finish line, scanning the crowd to find my family and friends.

But I have also realized something along the way: that this marathon is not “the” rite of passage, it is one of many along my personal journey as a runner. Each race, each training run, each small triumph to even just get out of bed and tie my running shoes passes the litmus test – getting out of my comfort zone, passing through the in-between time, and emerging on the other side of the challenge.

Somewhere along the side of a county highway in rural Wisconsin (a dozen or so hours into a relay race from Winona to Minneapolis), someone shouted “Good job runner!” as I ran by – and there it was.

I am a runner!

This post was originally published at Minneapolis Running. Rich Rein is a software engineer by day, a firefighter/EMT by night, father to a young son - and working on becoming a runner in between. Traveling all over two states to run 30+ races so far this year, he might just be there sooner or later…

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