Why do you run?

Any semi-serious runner encounters this question on a regular basis.  Often, it’s an out of shape co-worker or acquaintance who hears you talk about soreness or injury and helpfully informs you that “running isn’t really that good for you.”  There was even that infamous Glamour article a few years ago that told women that running would make their skin saggy.  I don’t know about their research cohort, but my skin is a lot less saggy when I’m running than when I’m not.

As I ruminate over yesterday’s run and the seeming return of my symptoms, I find myself asking “why do I run?”  (For those with a time constraint, the answer is that I actually love running. For those interested in a more detailed answer, read on.)

I started running competitively in 7th grade.  At the time, I was not particularly good at or interested in other sports.  My parents had a rule about us being home for dinner and most elementary sports practices happened right at 5:30.  I was always a strong runner, however, often winning the mile run that we occasionally did in gym class.  I did gymnastics a couple of times, rode horses and bikes and was generally an outdoors kid, but not in an organized sense.

I joined the cross country team in 7th grade for the social interaction and because everyone else joined a sport.  I wasn’t particularly good, but I wasn’t particularly bad either.  By high school, I was a solid runner and often ran in the 5th spot (which scores in XC) during my freshman year.  I didn’t improve drastically over my high school career, only getting into the 21:00 minute range in the 5k.  It wasn’t for lack of talent; I just ran at a time when my team and Vermont had a series of insanely talented runners.  My teammate Tara would go on to win NCAAs.  Erin Sullivan broke almost every Vermont record.  With limited resources and attention, I was fine at running and very strong at nordic skiing. Even at that time, I suspected that short distance was not my strength.  It took me almost all of a 5K to warm up, but once I was warm, running felt like something I could do forever.

I opted not to run in college.  Burnt out from a rather uninspiring high school career and sick of being told that I was too heavy for running (ridiculous, as I was a good 15 pounds lighter in high school than I am now), I went on to college as a nobody, athletically speaking.  I played field hockey freshman year, and was surprisingly good.  As an inner, my job was to run fast, seemingly forever.  Success.  When I transferred to Albany, however,  playing on a D1 team with only a year of experience wasn’t an option.  I occasionally played pickup, but found myself coming back to running by the end of sophomore year.

It would take me almost 4 more years to build up the confidence to race again.  Will watched me run every day in graduate school and as a former runner himself, recognized that my speed was improving.  When we talked about racing, however, I would balk, afraid to put myself out there again. I came home one day to find amazing pink waffles on my pillow with a note that said, “I hope to be watching you race in these by the end of the summer.”  It was enough to encourage me to sign up for a 4 mile race.  To my surprise, I did well, finishing 4th among women, and the first woman who wasn’t a former Olympian.  I continued to race through that fall, winning a 5K in September, placing 7th in my first marathon in November and winning a race series.  I was back.  Or so I thought.

Running has meant different things to me throughout my life.  In elementary school, it was a source of pride for a kid who otherwise didn’t feel particularly athletic.  In junior high and high school, it was a social experience.  I still hold an incredibly special place in my heart for “my” cross country girls. In college, it was a way to keep up with late night beer and pizza.  After Katrina, it was a piece of normalcy in an otherwise insane day.  In grad school, it was sanity and a social event and a major piece of my relationship. 

For those who aren’t runners, it would be impossible for me to describe the depth of loss that I’m feeling today.  Of course I can find another sport.  I like biking and hiking, I even occasionally like ultimate frisbee and swimming.  But I love running.  Running is who I am. 

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