I asked my friend and running partner, Mary Kate, to write a special blog post about why she runs in honor of the Boston Marathon on Monday! She is running it, I am cheering her on from over here in Thailand – Go Mary Kate!!!!
While Laura is enjoying the beaches of Thailand (get some sunburn and send it back for me!) and I stave off my loneliness without our weekly runs, I started to tackle a question she posed one Friday – “Why do I run?” In an effort to start to answer this question, let’s do a quick recap of my running life:
Age 10: First major race with Dad. Matching shirt-shorts-shoes combo (thanks, Mom!). 7.2 miles along the Cape Cod seashore seems like death after our 3 mile training runs.
Age 14: No longer running with Dad, I place first in my age group at the Falmouth Road Race. I’m mostly concerned with the lack of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough “Peace Pops” (who likes Cherry Garcia anyways?) at the finish line. Also, I’m thrilled my brother and I have matching shoes.
Age 16: My intelligent high school track & field teammates convince me to join them in the Green Mountains of Vermont for “Running Camp”. We stay on a college campus (Lyndon State College, represent!), run twice a day, get to stalk all of the best runners from our state and see them doing non-running things, and have access to an ice cream machine in the cafeteria. I decide I want to run in college (based on the ice cream machine + hot college-age counselors/coaches). Shortly thereafter, I make an intelligent decision (!) and quit soccer to run cross country. My soccer coach breathes a sign of relief.
Age 18: I decide not to walk onto the William & Mary cross country team and start running with a team of running rejects (not really, just guys no longer on the W&M team). Sometimes a very fast senior girl runs past us and everyone whispers about her “ultrarunning”; I make a mental note to try this “ultrarunning” sometime.
Age 21/22/23: With encouragement from friends, I try to spice up my running with forays into triathlons – one sprint that involved swimming in the James River (bleh) and ridding my grandmother’s 30 (or more) year-old Peugot with lever shifters. The sprint is followed by two swim-runs (I won a pie at one of them!). I feel like drowning every time I swim; races involving swimming are shelved indefinitely.
(NYC Marathon 2014)
Age 24: A friend recommends the New York Marathon, and I sign up (then move away from New York). Despite no training plan (“Hey! I think I need to do a long run before the race. Guess I should do 18 miles today?”), I PR (duh – easy when that’s your only time) and qualify for Boston. Fearing I’ve peaked at the marathon distance, I let a friend convince me to sign up for a 50K (Now I can be an ultrarunner too! Just like that girl from William & Mary – who actually is an international ultra-running champion). I will regret this decision in approximately 5 months.
(Ready for the North Face Endurance Challenge 2015)
Age 25: Laura and I spend all winter training in rain, snow, cold, and wind. I feel very prepared for the North Face Endurance Challenge; that is, until I learn mid-race that the words “trail run” do not mean “a soft, mulchy path that is a great alternative to running on pavement”. For future reference, “trail run” really means, “a steep, rocky hiking trail designed for hiking that will make your legs turn into rigid columns of steel by mile 27.”
(Marine Corps Marathon Finish 2015)
In an effort to redeem myself after a painful 50K in April and a disappointing performance at the Marine Corps Marathon, I run the Rocky Balboa 50K in December. After spending 18 miles with new friends and seasoned ultra-runners, I resolve to run a 50 miler in 2016.
(Rocky Balboa 50K 2015)
Age 26: So, I’m not 26 yet (I’m hanging on to the “mid-20s” moniker until late August. Booyah.), but ideally my running recap from age 26 will read,
“After an effortless PR at the Boston Marathon, I enjoyed incorporating intervals, thresholds, and tempo runs into my training for my first 50 mile race at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 50 mile race was fabulous, and I actually added a few miles onto the end, just for fun.”
Reflecting on the highlights of my nearly seventeen years of running, it’s easy to pick out the reasons why running is a challenge. Blisters. Sore muscles. Strange injuries like fractured sesamoid bones and inflamed sartorius muscles. Feet bloodied from the stupid plastic in the toe box of Mizuno Wave Inspire 10s. Bathroom-less wastelands (Pro-Tip: Socks + bushes work in a pinch.). And yet, despite theses obstacles, challenges beget payoffs – beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the sweet taste of a post-run chocolate milk, a previously unknown coffee shop, or a group of new friends.
For me, dabbling in longer distances allows me to take running to the next step. I crave a new challenge that doesn’t necessarily require more technical skill, but certainly requires mental toughness and grit – two characteristics I learned from my parents and am always seeking to test the limits of. While the unknown thrill of testing my limits with longer distances is one of the answers to “why I run” (at least for now), running is not just a sport for energetic New Englanders, or former athletes, or fitness fanatics. Running is for everyone. Running is for you.
At the end of the day, I don’t run for me; I run for all those who can’t. Every one of us has had our lives touched by a friend, a colleague, a family member, a spouse, a loved one, a story of debilitation, sickness, or tragedy. There a so many we know or know of who can’t get outside on a 25 degree morning to feel a jog slowly chase away the burn of cold ears, or who can’t pin on a race bib and cross the finish line to the cheers of strangers. So, I challenge you to challenge yourself. Be introspective – do you run? Why or why not? Set a goal – maybe it’s to jog once a week. Maybe it’s to run all the way around the Jackie Onasis Reservoir (watch out for the raccoons). Maybe it’s to run a race. Maybe it’s to win a race. However, don’t for a second think “I can’t” or “That’s not for me.” You can, you just need to find your “why”.
“Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going.”
Happy Patriot’s Day to everyone in Boston and if you’re interested, you can follow my progress (and bathroom breaks) at today’s Boston Marathon by tracking Bib #11468.