A Running Start

“So, have you been running?”

When I haven’t seen someone in a while, this is the most common question they ask me. The answer should be straightforward, but there’s more to it than just a simple yes or no. I used to love running, and to some degree I still do. I love road races. I love the running community, and how supportive people are in that setting. No one is chewing anyone else out for being too slow, or for not being a real runner. People don’t tear each other done, they jus want to see everyone finish the race, and they want you to love running as much as they do. There’s an enthusiasm and an energy in the running community that’s infectious, and in a world plagued by seemingly infinite amounts of negativity, to know that there’s a community of people out there dedicated to positivity and the feeling of a natural high, that should give people some peace of mind, even if the sport itself is kind of insane.

Running is both insane and not insane, depending on who you are. Some people completely avoid it. Some people do it begrudgingly, knowing that it’s good for them, but every step for them is misery. Then there’s the last group: the people who love running, the people who have maybe had part of their brain removed, the part that tells them that this makes no sense. This group heads out in the rain or the snow like a kid on Christmas day, dodging patches of ice and giant puddles, treating the terrain like an obstacle course that’s been strategically plotted out for our enjoyment. It’s in those moments that I forget about everything else, all of the obligations and things that await me. I am indeed six years old during those runs, having a blast, dodging traffic on occasion, and leaping over small lakes.

I love running because it’s done so many good things for me. I love that I can just burst out of the door and into the street, that I can crank out as many miles as possible. I love running when I’m feeling good. The feeling of taking off and landing over and over again makes you feel like you’re flying, if only for an instant. When running is good to you, I’m not sure there’s anything else like it. It can be done individually or as a group, but I prefer solo running. Solo runs are a way to unplug, and you run because you love it, not because someone told you to. You run at your own pace, and you enjoy every step of the way.

Running is humbling. I’ve slept well, had a few cups of coffee, warmed up, and then gone for a slow, plodding and painful run that never seems to end. Usually it takes a few minutes for my body to warm up, but sometimes it never happens. You keep pushing and pushing for that feeling of speed and ease that never comes, and you have to remind yourself that even if this run isn’t going the way you want it to go, that it’s still benefitting you, and that for better or for worse, you’re out there and enjoying the weather, enjoying running for the natural sport that it is.

I love running because it makes no sense. I remember feeling achy, tired, and a little fatigued from a weekend of going out, and yet, I still wanted to get outside and hit the bricks. Rather than recuperate, I laced up my shoes and took off into the night. It might have been drizzling, but I was flying. My body was sore, and yet I remember feeling faster than I ever had before, and the goal I’d been chasing seemed like a strong possibility that night. That night was the first time I ever ran four miles in under 30 minutes, and while that’s not too impressive for a seasoned runner, for me, it was a significant accomplishment. I was never athletic as a kid, so anything I achieve in the fitness realm means that much more to me. I know where I came from.

—-

And yet, running doesn’t always love me back.

Running used to be my religion. I remember training almost every day for a marathon that I’d never run, and I remember being heartbroken when my progress came to a screeching halt. When I got injured, I kept running because I knew what I was about to lose. All of those miles I’d run were for nothing, and although I hoped it was only a slight setback, part of me knew that I was going to be running for a long time.

Running injuries linger, and they impact your regular life as well. When I got injured, every step I took was painful, and reminded me that I’d come so far only to have to bow out. My shin finally healed, and running pulled me back in, only to spit me out with another injury once again. I was discouraged, but I wasn’t ready to quit. I knew I could run a marathon if my body would just cooperate. Mentally, I had the determination, I just needed to hold it together physically for four months of training.

Running can be rewarding, but it can also be cruel. I finally ran the New York Marathon in 2016, and it was the amazing experience I hoped it would be. I’ll carry that day in my memory forever, knowing that there’s a chance I’ll never run one again. Part of me wants to get back out there, but after the marathon, the injuries returned. Shortly after New York, I got a number for the Boston Marathon. I was only a few months removed from running 60 miles in a single week, but during a 4 or 5 mile run, something popped in the side of my leg. When everything settled, I could barely walk down the stairs without sharp shooting pain in my knee. That pain lasted so much longer than I expected it to. It stayed with me, reminding me that I am not indestructible, and that running is fickle at best. It’s something that can be taken or that can leave you inhumanly fast.

I haven’t been running, that is, until today. I wanted to run the lake near my hometown at least once this summer, and today was the day I finally got out there. I wish I could tell you that I made it through the entire 5k without stopping, but I’m a good deal heavier than I was the last time I ran, and the humidity made me stop more than once. I still made it around, but not the way I would have years ago. Even so, I’m glad I listened to my body, rather than blowing right past its warnings. I guess that’s maturity, knowing that I didn’t want to overheat in the hot summer sun. It was never going to be worth it to push it in that scenario.

I’m learning to put running in its proper place in my life. I was trying to make it my religion, my way of life, but that’s not healthy. Maybe now I can finally see it for what it is: it’s a hobby that I love, but that’s all it is. I can’t rely on it to always be there for me, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’ll teach me to enjoy every single run, knowing that this one could be my last, but I hope to get back into it. After all, I still love it. Running is an amazing sport that I’ll never be done with. Today was the first step back, and it was blast to be out there once again. It felt like I was just starting out, and for once I’m totally okay with that. Thanks for reading.

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