The other day I was daydreaming about races and getting back to those once the pandemic is over.
I was thinking of running a half at the end of April that has since gone virtual. Ultimately I decided against registering. Making do with virtual races last year was one thing, but to be honest, I can’t fathom paying $100 if I’m just going to run out and back on a suburban recreational trail, which is something I usually do for free. Additionally, racing by myself is nowhere near as satisfying as running with a crowd and hearing the spectators cheer my name.
I was thinking about where I wanted to go with racing this spring – if I even wanted to do anything – and I remembered that this month marks five years since I decided to start running.
It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day in late February 2016. I was walking around in a t-shirt and sweats feeling comfortable and enjoying the sunshine. The Alum Creek Recreational Trail runs by my complex, and part of why I chose my place was to have easy access to the trail for walking and bicycling. At this point I’d only run a handful of times on the treadmill and ran-walked (mostly walked) three 5ks over five years. I wanted to try something different from resistance training at the gym and a perfect sunny day seemed like a great time to run.
So I laced up my old Nikes and ran-walked eight miles. To my surprise, I spent more time running than taking walk breaks, and I felt great during and afterwards. Running instead of bicycling or walking gave me a new perspective of all the woods and small creatures around me. I’d heard birds chirp and saw the rabbits playing, and yet on that particular day seeing and hearing felt so different. I was one with the universe and it felt more real.
The next morning I discovered that people with high arches need actual running shoes and not broken-in Nikes. The plantar fasciitis was no joke and the most I could do was stumble out of bed to the living room and collapse on my couch in agony.
That run opened a door I never would have thought to walk through.
Five years later, and it’s still an adventure with plenty of miles, chafing, hotel reservations and runner’s high, as well as the occasional disappointment and lesson learned when runs or races didn’t turn out as I thought.
It was my first road race, the Columbus 10k, on a soupy Sunday morning in June. I had to start running in the evenings downtown right after work, and I discovered that evening runs and having a race to focus on carried me through the discontentment of a job where I wasn’t a good fit.
It was registering for the Columbus Half Marathon. This was my first half and at the time the longest race I’d committed to run, a whopping 13.1 miles. The distance seemed impossible, and all I could think of were the memories I had of getting picked on during gym class in fourth grade. In spite of living an active lifestyle and loving exercise, I was not and never have been a talented athlete. Gym class always sucked, from kindergarten on to my sophomore year of high school. Fourth grade was the worst school year of my life – I was dealing with bullying from mean girls and boys, and the obvious anxiety during team sports made me an easy target in gym class. Completing a new mile reminded me of one of my bullies, Heather Wilson. My victory cry whenever I had a successful run was always “F**k you, Heather Wilson!”
I’ve since dumped that victory cry, by the way.
And more importantly, I completed the half marathon that seemed impossible. When we were reunited in the celebration village, I told my mom I didn’t think I could ever do it again. I was chafed, exhausted and dealing with a significant brain fog.
But I already knew the next year I was returning to Columbus to run the full marathon.
There were more half marathons in cold and races cancelled during severe thunderstorms. I experimented with all the fueling options Runners World suggested and figured out what definitely doesn’t work. I enjoyed the long training runs from downtown past Ohio State’s campus all the way up to Antrim Park in Worthington, waving at pretty much everyone I passed on the trail. I even pretended to be Snow White with all the deer, which probably looked really stupid to passers-by.
I ran my first two full marathons with three weeks between them, meeting my goal of running 26.2 miles before my 26th birthday. Completing the fulls taught me to stop evaluating my body based on appearances and instead on what it could accomplish. Cellulite? Yeah, I know her, but I don’t pay her too much mind.
Racing brought me to different cities around Ohio and Indiana, and I decided that I had a life goal to fulfill – running a half marathon in every state. Then I decided after my fourth full marathon that I needed to set a second life goal – running 50 marathons before my 50th birthday.
As of now I have about 50 races completed. 13 of those are half marathons, and eight of those are full marathons. The pandemic has delayed some of my racing plans, but that hasn’t made the past five years of running any less fun and meaningful.
Running has refined me. I had to develop a steel will and spine to commit to things that scared me. I had to develop the voice in my head that tells my inner toddler – who wants to be lazy, lay in bed and live off macaroni and cheese – that yeah, running in the cold or heat might suck, but we still need to get it done and there’s no excuses. And the sport has carried me through some of tougher challenges of my 20s. It’s easy to get up and run when the week before was incredible and everything’s peachy. It’s another thing entirely to make yourself run when you’re battling unemployment, depression or exhaustion from fighting with a family member.
Dorothy Beal of Mile Posts once commented that she runs so much to train for life. Running a marathon is easy – getting through life is the challenge. I can confirm after having eight of them under my belt that training for and running a marathon creates the sturdy mind needed to succeed at life.
Obviously I don’t know exactly where I’m going the next five years. But I do know there’s going to be a lot of joy, with some self-discovery and maybe a black toenail or two. And I can’t wait for it.
Yours in writing and running,