On rainy mid-winter afternoons such as this one, I rekindle my appreciation for running and the freedom it brings in my life. It is during these dreary days that I crave the trails where old roots meet quiet rivers and the sun peaks through limbs to complement the crispness of shade. But to be honest these pleasant thoughts aren’t always on the forefront of my mind when I’m running and my runs aren’t always blessed by Mother Nature. My mind sometimes races faster than my feet or is limited to solely focusing on making it up a steep hill and where I live, that is quite frequent. No matter how painful or inconvenient a run seems, I have grown to appreciate its purpose in my life, one step at a time.
This topic was prompted by several realizations and I will approach a new concept each week that approaches different facets of running culture. Because running has always been a huge defining role in my life, I will delve into a different topic each week that has inspired and reshaped the way I view running.
Before I begin discussing my first motivator, I will briefly summarize the steps in my life that have fashioned me into the runner I am today. It didn’t happen from a New Year’s resolution or in training for another sport. For me, it was much more simple- I loved feeling fast.
“On your mark, get set, go!” Those were the firing words from my dad before I took off around the obstacle course I created around our house. Dad, with his timer at hand, and a bow in my hair made for a great team and flourishing father-daughter bond. Over time, the courses got more complex and would eventually lead me to hitting the pavement and beyond. These early days of my simple and much younger days consisted of racing our neighbors up the hill or running around the block with my dad.
Some memories have been more impressionable in developing a passion for running such as the night I decided to run a mile around the neighborhood as a determined 5th grader with dad by my side. The stars were out and I remember exactly what I was wearing during that warm night in May. That was not only the first time I had ever raced a complete mile, but also the first time I realized I was hooked on this crazy sport for life.
I decided to go out for track in 7th grade and realized with the speed of several of my teammates, we were destined for conference champs. And with sprints, intervals and lots of high knees we went on to winning conference both years of our middle school careers.
The second step in my running dialogue arrived the first day of cross country practice in 9th grade. Unsure of this unknown yet familiar sport, I approached my first practice with optimism. I’m glad I did because the head coach immediately put me on varsity and I ran 4 miles with the girls who would eventually become my best friends. I’m not going to act like those first few weeks were easy. No, I pretty much thought I was on the verge of a heat stroke after every practice that summer and recovered by eating eggs while religiously watching the summer Olympics.
Little did I know that those practices would become my favorite memories of high school. Rain or shine, we ran. Every route had a name and every runner had a Garmin watch. We were bound to each other’s company and motivation for miles and made funny stories and new routes our muse. Conversation was our music and when we were breathless, Coach Laura usually always had enough strength to keep talking. We made strides up “Monster Hill” on Mondays and celebrated race wins with ice-cream runs at the end of each season. We bonded in below freezing ice baths and scarfed down embarrassing amounts of spaghetti the night before Saturday Invitational meets. We saw each other at 4am to load the bus for meets and after races when we felt limp and speechless. We were a family that I trusted, fought for and supported.
When the seasons ended in November, I continued training for local festive 5Ks such as the Turkey Trot, Reindeer Run or Krispy Kreme Challenge. Dad and I had the perfect 5 mile system that maximized both our distance and pace around the neighborhood. We ran the first two miles together and as we approached our house he would hop in the red Jeep Wrangler (his mid-life crisis), grab his guitar and ride alongside me as I continued the rest of the 3 mile run. In the dark? Not a problem. Dad would turn the headlights on and light up the road ahead.
Every run, no matter what time of day or what season, has been a learning experience, an inspiration and a stress reliever. Every step is recorded in my memory, the soles of my shoes and on my watch. I don’t think of running as a chore or a weight loss discipline. The fact that I can plant my feet anywhere on earth and start running empowers me. It is the most freeing feeling to feel a breeze through your hair and the world growing distant behind you. It is not an addiction but a lifelong hobby. It has blessed me with friendships, health, cool running gear and the liberty to enjoy my undeniable sweet tooth.
With these motivators and inspirations, I will continue to run near and far so stick around as I discover the power in mind over distance and what keeps me going.