In ninth grade I got kicked off of my school’s track team. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise since I hated running, was bad at running, and had even been checked for exercise induced asthma, since I had a propensity to run out of breath on even a short climb up stairs (the doctor told me I was just out of shape). But what really made me mad was that I was accused of being a ringleader for inciting four perfectly strong-willed friends to leave, and was made to apologize to my teammates for leaving the team in its final hours before Districts.
Naturally, this meant I was thrilled to be rid of the team, and not only did I not apologize, but left our coach with my gnarliest toenail that had just fallen off from my too tight track spikes. My friends and I were able to commit more of our time to soccer, and our track team tied for Districts, which inevitably we could have won, if any of us had stayed on. But it was without a doubt that my earliest exposure to the running community was the exclusivity of that world, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
It was then in my sophomore year of high school that I went on my first non-mandated run, just days before the end of the school year. Despite playing soccer for eleven years, I made it exactly .6 miles, at 5 in the morning, perhaps proving my doctor right. I started that run for the same reason that I think a lot of teenagers, and adults too, start running; because I wasn’t happy with how I looked or felt, especially after ten days in a bathing suit, eating meals smothered in olive oil. Everyday of that summer I ran the same 3.1 mile loop, all the way through soccer season, despite two-a-day practices or games, and then through the winter, ill or not.
I am sure many other people have gone through this obsessive stage of running, and while I know now it is not a healthy introduction to the sport, it did mirror the unhealthy obsession I bring to most of the things I start doing. Over the years I have talked to many runners who have felt the same way, and I totally get it. It’s something that as an individual, you can control. When there are stressors like schoolwork or work-work, relationships or tragedies, the only thing you can control is what your body is capable of doing, and with that comes postponing facing whatever else stands in your way; plus, these shorter daily runs were largely very good for my health. So I saw no issue with my new running habit, and was rewarded by my improved fitness for my senior year of soccer.
But as all things come to an end, so did my soccer career, and I knew after my last kick of the ball in high school, I never wanted to play again. The following day, I tied the same Asics that millions of runners know well, and started running the familiar path. But that day was different; I wanted to get lost, really run away. I made it 7.5 miles that, which was more than double my longest recreational run. When I got home in the middle of a thunderstorm, I decided to sign up for the State College Half Marathon. One month later, I finished my first half and from there, my cousin convinced me, my mother, and my best friend to sign up for the Nashville Rock and Roll full, just four months later.
Six months from that run, I would finish my second marathon in Baltimore. I struggled through with a painful freshman 20, and a list of four other state marathons I still wanted to do. I had never heard of the 50 state challenge, didn’t know if it existed, but I wanted it. My brother told me once that the key to life is to read new things, go new places, and meet new people. Touring around the US and meeting runners seemed as good a way as any to knock out two of those tenets. And from that day to this, my challenge has always held a place in the front of my mind. Some days it is in that obsessive part; the one that still times every split, and convinces myself that an extra mile in the dark on ice is a good idea. Other days it lives in that part that reminds me that there are men and women over 100 still running, and I could accomplish this challenge over fifty years.
So here we are, still at the starting line, with the finishing tape not yet in sight. Feel your already leaden legs? And that weight drop in your stomach? The one that tells you to pee, regardless of how many times you’ve already gone? Embrace it! This is how I feel at the start of every run, knowing how many thousands of miles are ahead, and knowing how lucky I am to have them all still to go.