Brian Hamilton: A purpose behind the pain | TheUnion.com

Brian Hamilton: A purpose behind the pain

At 10 years old, I set a goal.

Growing up in the cornfields of northern Indiana, I'd decided to enter the "Seven-Mile Run" at the "Seven-Mile Festival" in a tiny town that had been formerly known as, you guessed it, "Seven Mile."

Urbana, as it's now known — the name seeming a bit ironic considering its population of 300 — was called "Seven Mile" because it was located about seven miles from four neighboring towns. And so when the town decided to host a summer celebration, the name of the festival and the distance of its annual road race seemed only appropriate.

Seven miles. It seemed such a long distance to a 10 year old.

"That's like running all the way to Wabash," I remember telling my friend, Todd, as we were in the middle of another Wiffle ball game in the backyard.

"Or Lagro, Roann, or Manchester!" Todd said.

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My big brother had run the race a couple years earlier, and had won a trophy for being the youngest finisher. Of course, at that age, my entire existence was measured by how I measured up to my big brother. Whether on the basketball court, the baseball diamond or the football field, the goal was always to bring down Goliath.

This time, though, the goal was to simply run seven miles — and hope to be the youngest to cross the finish line so I could bring home my own trophy to sit, opposite my brother's, on my side of the bedroom.

Someone should have told me that in order to run seven miles I should first be able to run one mile. Let's just say, my training regimen wasn't exactly regimented.

I still remember that Saturday morning, stepping up to the starting line, stretching out the hamstrings, looking over to my left and being surprised to see — among all the much-older entrants — none other than my baseball buddy Todd.

It didn't take long to remember Todd was a few months younger than me and to realize that had we both finished the race, Todd would be the youngest finisher and the trophy would go home with him.

And he was. And it did. And good for him.

Me? I quit, after just a couple miles.

Look, I've never been much of a runner. Even when I was athlete, I didn't enjoy it. Sure, I'd run in practice — sprints, ladders, the mile or whatever Coach had cooked up for conditioning — but there was a purpose. We ran in practice so that we could beat out an infield single or escape a pair of blitzing linebackers.

But running to run? It just sounds like self -torture.

So once the starting gun had fired, all those longer-legged runners — and my buddy Todd — had left me in their dust, I found myself nearly all alone on a dirt road in the sweltering sun somewhere short of seven miles from town.

Some 35 years later, I don't remember the debate that played out in mind at the time. But I do remember thinking "What's the point?" and hopped in the back of the truck hauling all us quitters back to town.

I've regretted it ever since.

And so when my wife wondered why I could barely walk one day this summer, while visiting family and friends in Indiana, I had good reason to be so hobbled.

I'd recently started running after a friend suggested it as the most efficient exercise to try and squeeze into my schedule. I'd been racking up some mileage on the treadmill for a few weeks when I headed out to run the flatlands of the Hoosier state.

I figured I'd run a couple miles and then head back home. But as I was scooting along to my workout playlist, I realized I was at the three-mile mark. Hmmm … If I ran another half mile before turning around, that would make it 3.5 miles out and another 3.5 back — totaling that seven-mile mark that had been so elusive so many years ago.

But this time, I wasn't running against Todd, my big brother or even the clock. This time my yardstick was myself. And I did it.

Goal attained — never mind it came more than three decades later.

Of course, there was no trophy handed to me at the finish line. Instead, my prize was a pair of legs so sore I could barely climb the stairs to bed that night — well, that, and a newfound need to feel that "runner's high" on a regular basis.

And it still seems like self-torture.

But, at 45 years old, I met a goal.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.

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