Running is pretty simple. You put on some shoes and you head out the door. Or, you line up with a four year old and say “On your marks, get set, GO!” and you take off behind the kid, since they always leave on ’set’. Running racing is simple too. There are no judges, no subjectivity: you start on a start line and you run to the finish line.
Of course, we all know it’s not quite this simplistic. To get to the finish line you might have to train to become stronger. To train to become stronger, you might have to join a group, engage a coach or at the very least embrace some kind of training routine. To begin a routine, you might have to make a commitment and juggle some things around in your life. To juggle some things around in your life, you might have to communicate with people in your life and get them to change some of their plans. And after you do all that, there might be a few obstacles in your way. It might snow, you might get injured, you might get tired, or (most likely) you might run up against some mental barriers to personal success that you didn’t even know you had.
In this era of high performance youth sports, I feel lucky that I got to discover running for myself, on my own terms, with very little outside pressure at the start. I had experiences, that while not always easy (running hard or being an elite athlete is not exactly easy), did lay a foundation of a love for the sport, and a joy for human movement that remains to this day.
I have two vivid memories from my first moments as a runner, which for me means when I started running for the ‘purpose’ of running, instead of just running around, which is what I mainly did as a kid until I was about 10 or so.
The first memory seems glaringly simple. I was 10 and my mum was regularly getting up very early and going for a jog around our neighbourhood. In order to get the jog in before the morning rush, she was going in the dark. One morning I asked if I could come. Getting up in the dark and running outside seemed like a cool thing to do. All I remember was that I put on a pair of grey boot socks (because we always wore boot socks to go hiking, skiing and for any activity outdoors) and laced up my sneakers, which were probably the white canvas Nike All Courts with the light blue swoosh. In 1977, not too many kids had running shoes yet. I might have worn my jeans and a sweatshirt, again I can’t remember that. All I remember was that I went out for a run in the dark with my mum. And it was exercise. I can’t even remember if we talked, or if she encouraged me, or how long we ran. I remember running just to run and I remember liking it.
My second memory involves my first cross country race. I arrived at Point Pleasant Park, at the grassy field where the race was going to start. Lots of kids my age were milling about with their parents and coaches. I was there with my Dad. I can’t even remember if I asked to go to the race, or if he suggested it. Dad tells me I rode there from Bedford on my 10 speed because he was working that afternoon. Some of the details of that race are very hard for me to remember and some are as vivid as if they were yesterday, a phenomenon I chalk up to the fact that it was so incredibly emotionally intense. I had no idea what I was getting into. When the race started, I just took off with all these other girls, determined to get to the finish line as fast as I could, and first. Nobody, certainly not my dad nor my mum, told me I should or could come first, it just seemed to me like the only possible goal. It was a race after all. I suffered badly in that race; I suffered because I didn’t pace myself and I started way too fast. But I came around the last corner, still in front somehow, and there was my Dad, halfway up the last hill cheering me on. I sprinted up to the finish as fast as I could and won. I remember running fast and liking it. I had found my sport and my competitive outlet.
So, if training and racing sometimes confound you with the complexity of decision making, time management and expectations, I encourage you to start with your soul. It doesn’t always have to be only about science and outcome, data and goals. You can love what you are doing, you can decide to be present and start with what you love about what you do, whether it’s the laughter of your running buddies, or the smell of the forest. It’s like reading a book. With the best books, you are present on every page, engrossed in the story. You don’t flip to the last page, even though you know it has to end eventually. You don’t flip to the middle to see what’s going to happen. Each training session has to start and has to end, and every race has a start line and a finish line. Find one thing to focus on, the thing that you love the most about running, and build your story and your practice. It might hurt, it might be hard, but it’s your story to create. And you have an opportunity to create a new story every time you train and race.
What do You LOVE about running?
Common sense and a sense of humour.