This post is dedicated to all of the runners out there… Whether you’re running to something, from something, or for something, we’re all one big happy running family once our feet start moving. Celebrate National Running Day on June 4th by visiting www.runningday.org and printing your custom bib to declare why you run.
I recently read somewhere that more people are running than ever before. This doesn’t surprise me. Go to your local park on a sunny day, or try and find an open treadmill midweek at 5 o’clock. Yes, more people are definitely running… and I couldn’t be happier.
I discovered running in grade school. We had a small track & field team and I competed in the 400m, 4x100m relay, and long jump. My sister, eight years older, ran cross country in high school. I remember her strapping on her [now dinosaur] Garmin heart rate monitor around her chest. She looked so cool. Just like any little sister, I wanted to be that cool, too. I was a sports-loving tomboy, so running seemed natural – if Mia Hamm and my sister were doing it, I wanted to be doing it, too. When I got to high school, my athletic coaches used running as a form of punishment. Suicides in basketball. Running after every missed free-throw. Soccer pre-season became better known as ‘Running Hell’. Instead of showing that these running drills were designed to condition us, I remember feeling like they were a result of poor performance. It didn’t take long before I decided that I hated running.
I “officially” started running when I was 18. My sister, while training for one of her many marathons, asked that I come running with her. I imagine this stemmed from a conversation with our parents. At the time, I was struggling. There were 40,000 people at college and I couldn’t quite find my niche. On top of spiraling grades, I was in a relationship that made me feel like I was drowning.
I remember being so freaked out at the idea of running with her. Running ‘just because’ had seemed so foreign to me. Her mileage was obviously much higher than what I could handle, but she encouraged me to just come for a couple of miles to start. We would past the campus farm, then under the overpass and through the back roads leading to another farm and the university’s gardens. I didn’t always last long, but I liked it. Then I surprised myself and signed up for a campus 5k fun run, where the entry fee was a Christmas gift donation for children in need. And I liked that, too.
After my sophomore year and breakup from hell, I transferred to another campus within my college after I was accepted into the business program. (How this happened, I’ll never know. My grades had rapidly declined. I like to think that angels had something to do with it.) This allowed me to have smaller class sizes and live at home. I started running what my family and I know as the White Mailbox Route, or a 3.1 mile loop from my parents’ house where the turnaround point was a white mailbox arching into the street. (Speaking of family, I’d like to point out that my mom runs multiple times a week. She’s 60 years old. I pray to God that I’m still running when I’m 60.) I ran this route almost every day, like a loyal patron of the pavement. I started buying running clothes, running on the boardwalk, incorporating strength training. I even went to a running store and got fitted for the proper running shoes based on my stride (Remember: over-pronators are people, too). I started reading Runner’s World and books on running. I referred to myself as a Runner. Sometimes days would pass before I would get the motivation to lace up, but I always knew that when I wanted to, I could put on my running shoes and find complete solace in the rhythm.
My father died on January 12, 2012. Death sometimes causes its audience to question everything that they hold true. I was not spared. It took me weeks to go running. It seemed unfair that I could get up and run, when my dad had his left leg and hip amputated in an effort to cut out the cancer. I have two legs, my dad had one. I am alive, he is not.
I eventually decided that running could heal me. I started signing up and training for races, using them as motivation. I ran and I prayed and I talked to my dad. In the silence of running, I felt like I could hear him. I felt like I could hear everything.
After the first year since his passing, I started asking for signs again. Some days I still felt angry, and sad, and lonely. So I asked my dad to prove that he was still with me. For a short while, I got nothing. I convinced myself that it was over, the signs had stopped, and I was now on my own. And then, while running one day, I begged. Please, please, please. Just let me know that you can still hear me. As I ran, gaze fixed straight ahead, a single falling leaf trickled down from the sky, right in front of me. The light framed its path, and it landed at my feet. Of course he was still with me. He had always been with me.
Someone once called me a “crazy zen runner” because I expressed that, for me, running isn’t about time or mileage or races. Don’t get me wrong: I love hitting a PR as much as the next person. I love finishing a half-marathon (soon-to-be marathon, God-willing) and getting a medal, or seeing that my pace has improved. The difference, however, is that running is my church. It is my church, my temple, my sanctuary. It is where I pray, have conversations with my father and God, and remind myself of all that I have accomplished. Quite simply, running has saved my life. It gave me the confidence that I needed, the support to lean on, and the ability to remember that no matter what, the road is always there. It is long, it is winding, it is complex, but it is worth every mile, every moment, every memory.
until next time, (or until my route crosses yours)