Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Running Story

I was inspired to write this by seeing a few other running bloggers I follow post their running stories. Also, I am lazy and wanted to write an "About" section - now I can get double credit for it.

When I was in seventh grade - the first year my school district allowed students to participate in sports - I tried out for the basketball team. Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for even the alternate team, so I decided to do track and field, a no-cut sport, with all my friends. While I didn't loathe it enough to outright quit, I hated most of our practices. The one day we had a practice cancellation for rain was like Christmas.

Practices were two hours, five days a week. The first hour was calisthenics, and the second hour involved everyone not naturally talented getting dumped in the field behind my middle school to train on our own. You were expected to be active the whole time, but rarely were you given any real instruction on what to do. (Our main coach was training for his own marathon, so I'm not sure what the disconnect was. He finished his race, so he must've known something about running.)

I was put in the exhibition 220 and also chose to run the 880, as it was open to anyone interested. My crowning achievement was when I did not come in last place. (Full disclosure: it was at the district meet when I got to run against all four other schools.)

Looking back, I understand why I hated track so much. We were all forced to do the exact same workouts and were punished for not performing well enough. I certainly got stronger and probably improved (my times weren't recorded), but it wasn't in a logical way. I wasn't given the tools needed for success; even now I would need to do a lot of research to learn how to train to run the 220 and 880 well (ie not come in last again) - I'm not sure how I was supposed to figure it out as an 11-year-old running laps by myself in a field. (Wearing all cotton and Meijer gym shoes, no less.)

This thoroughly turned me off running, even though it was something I really wanted to do. I think my most distinctive take-away from this phase was that I didn't mind that the training was hard, I minded that I didn't know what I was doing. I vividly remember my grandmother asking why I participated if it was hard (I think I said I was sore after the first week of practice) and being nonplussed by the thought I would quit just because track required effort.
Photo: Believe in the run.
#running #runspiration
Fat lazy pandas don't put much effort into their image searches, alright?
I moved on to high school, where I took a required gym class the summer before my freshman year. (Over-achiever, hey-oo.) To get 100%, you needed to run a sub-30 3 miles. I was determined to get a 100%, so I spent extra time running on my own. However, it never occurred to me I could run outside (or trade in my Meijer gym shoes), so I did everything on the treadmill, which I hated. Again, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see what I really hated was where I was running, but I had no one to tell me otherwise. I think I ran a 31:something, which, considering I had no base beforehand, was really good for me. My most vivid memory of this whole thing was on "test day," when I ran more than a whole mile without walking and felt like I was flying. Even though I ultimately lost points, that sensation made up for it. (Though I do remember feeling ashamed when my friends had already finished well under 30 minutes and told me I needed to hurry up. Who knows why I prefer to always run alone?)

After that class, I proceeded to play zero sports and stopped running. This is probably my one regret from high school; I really wish I had had the camaraderie of a team for those four crappy years. I do laugh now though, because plenty of people ask if I was some sort of cross-country protege when I tell them I run marathons. (A sport that requires you to run really fast on grass? That sounds like some terrible nightmare.)

But, and this is a big but and it cannot lie, I am also a tiny bit glad I didn't run in high school. Several people I know who did track and/or cross-country now despise running and have given it up. I can't explain how weird it is to be able to run further than someone who I used to think was a fantastic athlete. I'm sure they could still kick my butt when it comes to speed any day, but it's a bizarre paradigm shift I still haven't acclimated to. This might go back to how in my head I'm still the slowest runner on the planet, but that's another story for another day.
Cheesy, but I'm honestly not sure how else to describe it.
Somehow, the tiny desire to run still stayed alive deep inside of me. When I started college, one of my close friends was a runner. She never forced it on me, but seeing someone be a runner day-in and day-out helped show me it was possible, no calisthenics or running on grass required. I started running in short intervals (in a new pair of Meijer shoes), though I made the rookie mistake of sprinting and being forced to walk. This time I kept it up.

One day, when I was staying with my runner friend, we discussed doing a 5K for my upcoming birthday. I found this inspiring and decided to go running. I have no idea what clicked this time, but I focused on running through each song as it came on my iPod, slowing the pace if I needed. As I went longer and longer, I decided I wanted to run continuously to the other side of campus. I was totally winded when I got there, but when I allowed myself to stop I almost fell over the runner's high hit me so hard. It was like what I had felt five years before, multiplied by a factor of 1000.

I managed to run back to my friend's apartment and looked up how far I had run without stopping - two miles. That sounds like so little now, but at the time I felt like a champion. This gave me the confidence I needed to sign up for the 5K. I finished the Run Back to School 5K in 33:48 one day before my 19th birthday. 

Eight years after my first track practice, I could finally call myself a runner.
And I jaywalk right across because a running party don't stop.
That spring I decided I wanted to do something I'd never done before - run four miles without stopping. I set-up two two-mile loops and headed out in the evening. I wanted to stop so badly after the first loop, but I kept going. I was so sore afterwards I hobbled for two days, but I felt like I was ready for more. In the summer of 2012 I ran the inaugural BTN Big 10K in Chicago and loved it. This was the first inkling I had that I might like to go longer, something that once seemed so overwhelming.

I started training for my first half, The Ice Cube Half, after Thanksgiving that year. Marathons had crossed my mind enough that I started reading seriously about them, but they still sounded pretty scary. However, I discovered my favorite part of training were the long runs, when I would just go for hours. I started researching races and signed up for the Sleeping Bear Marathon on January 1, 2013, before I had actually run my half.

After this point I started to learn more about the marathon community, especially about 50-Staters and the Marathon Maniacs. That summer I discovered the Mount Desert Island Marathon would qualify me for the Maniacs and start me on the 50 States path. Eager Feet Mom needed some convincing about why going to Maine during the semester was a good idea, but she eventually came around and became very supportive. When I crossed that finish line, I knew the 50 States was something I really could achieve.

Though my new coworkers probably wish I would stop telling them all about it.

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