My latest series is going to be exploring why I fell in love with running. There are a few goals to go along with this series. First, I want to start writing more again. Writing is a creative pursuit for me and creative pursuits are always worth the time. They make us better people, make us more human, and make us better understand who we are and why we do what we do. I miss when I used to write weekly or biweekly and want to get back to some sort of pattern.
The second reason is I know my relationship with running has changed in the past year. I need to better understand this change as I prepare to pursue a new big running goal (more on that later). We need to understand who we once were in order to better help us get where we are trying to go.
In this piece, I am going to highlight specific times in my life where my love affair with began, changed, went to a new level, etc. Great television shows have origin stories for their main characters. You can consider this my running origin story.
This will not be your typical “I crushed everyone in the mile in elementary school, realized I had talent, and fell in love with the sport” story. If you want to hear that story, I have million podcast recommendations where you can listen to far more talented runners tell some version of that story.
I did run the mile for the Presidential Fitness Exam in elementary school. My one memory is from third grade where I placed third. A decent showing, but nothing that made me feel like I was bound to be a runner for life.
The most significant thing that happened that day was after the mile. Our PE teacher offered us the chance to keep running, even after we finished the mile. I was one of the few to take up the offer. I remember running laps around the school and as I ran past a friend I told them “I’m going to try to run till I puke.”
It’s a curious statement to make in the third grade. Certainly some of the motivation was that if I threw up, I got to leave school. But there was also something deeper. Even at a young age, I was intrigued by how far I could push myself. Where were my limits? There was a certain satisfaction in knowing you went to the edge of your limits.
Obviously in third grade I did not have the language or the psychological understanding to be able to verbally express what I was feeling. But I could feel that in my heart. The desire to push, the desire to find out where my limit is held an appeal for me then and still holds a strong appeal now. When we are young, we can still feel things as intensely as we can feel them as adults. This was my first time feeling that feeling.
Oh man what a transformational period seventh grade was. My first relationship, kissing someone for the first time, losing my first friend, and my first time experiencing what a hell hole the internet can be. It should be mentioned that running meant absolutely nothing to me during this time. However, seventh grade was the first time I saw significant improvement in an area simply because I put in a lot of work.
In seventh grade I absolutely loved basketball. Why? Because in seventh grade you just want to feel cool and nothing in the world was cooler to me than basketball. Basketball players had confidence, swagger, aggression, and just looked like the coolest dudes on the planet. The only problem? I lacked all of that. I had been playing basketball since a young age but I was always scared of getting the ball on offense. I lacked real skill. So in seventh grade I made a choice to change that. I started playing with my friends almost everyday after school. My parents signed me up for a YMCA team that would practice and play a real game every week.
I really only cared about girls and basketball (apologies to my Mom because I was a handful). And as I kept playing and practicing more, I got more confident. I got better. I was less scared of getting the ball. And you what I loved? Getting better at something. This is the first time in my life I can remember seeing the fruits of labor. It felt really good to work hard at something and get better at it. That feeling plays a huge role in my love for running.
Ninth grade is a big one for me. It is the first time that I started to run competitively. My older brother was a senior and captain of the cross country team. My parents really pushed me to do a sport in the fall and what else was I going to do besides cross country? I certainly was not a football player and needed to get in shape for basketball so I joined cross country and had a really fun first season. I made the varsity and got to watch my older brother go all in to make the state meet. We will get to his impact on me later on.
A big decision I made my freshman was during the spring season. I had played baseball till that point and liked it. But my older brother had run track and I knew some people on the team already. I had to choose between the two and went with track. Possibly the best decision of my life. Doing track is where I discovered I loved running, although it was not my freshman year.
What truly impacted my relationship with running comes the summer after ninth grade. I spent most of the spring and into the summer talking to a girl. I had a huge crush on this girl since sixth grade and could not even believe I had the chance to talk to her. As embarrassing as it is to admit this, she was the main focus of my day. However, she started talking less and less to me at the start of summer. Eventually, I learned that she had started seeing an older guy at the high school.
Heartbroken is probably too strong a word but I felt pretty devastated. And here is why I learned just how strong of a motivator pain can be. I started running 2 or 3 miles everyday that summer. I would bring my Ipod Nano and listen to only three songs. Not Afraid by Eminem, Takers by T. I., and Young Forever by Jay Z would take me through each run. I remember I ran a solo 3 mile time trial and ran 21 minutes, which was better than my best in cross country freshman year.
Eventually, my pain began to fade. I started to really love running and loved getting better and better each day. That summer was the first time I started to actually love running, not just like it. Running was the most important to me that summer, which was a big step in my running origin story.
This is the end of part one. In part two, I will take you through the rest of my high schools where I became comfortable with saying I love running, was dumped by the first girl I loved, and started to realize that running would introduce me to lifelong friends. Part two will be out within a week.
Hope you enjoyed, and of course I love you all.