“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”– John Bingham
Did you know that June 5th was National Running Day? I know that was a few days ago, but after social media started blowing up with everyone’s updates, tweets, and images from their “National Running Day runs,” it got me thinking about what it means to be a runner. So, in honor of this day, I too decided to take a break from blogging and devote some extra time to the road.
As I laced up my sneakers, powered up my iPod, and headed out to run my favorite 6-mile loop around the Charles River… I paused. Given the fact that it was National Running Day, it only seemed appropriate to use this run as a time to reflect upon what running really means to me—after all…I wasn’t always a runner. So I shut off my iPod and hit the streets in silence– ready to breathe in the warm spring air and stay in the present– a far cry from my usual plugged-in, zoned-out, training-driven runs.
Then, I did what I do best.
With nothing to distract me– aside from the occasional biker or a small family of geese crossing my path– I had plenty of time to get lost in my thoughts and reflect. Around mile three, I was feeling pretty amazing– light, yet powerful on my feet– breathing hard, yet slow and steady. With the warm sun on my face and the salty breeze in my hair I almost forgot I was in the middle of the city.
It was then that I started thinking about why I run in the first place. I began to think about how grateful I am that I even can run. I thought about the Boston Marathon and I thought about my first 5K….
Clearly running goes much deeper than a pair of snazzy sneakers, some fancy leggings, and a Lululemon zip-up. It’s something you grow to love deep down in your soul–and it’s a relationship you must nurture if you want it to love you back.
In fact, come to think of it… running has been one of the longest relationships I’ve ever had. Growing up I was always a very active child. I spent my time running around and playing outside with the neighbors, taking multiple dance classes a week, and participating in organized sports, however, I didn’t get my first real taste of running until back in middle school when my Dad convinced me to join the cross-country team. I was a tiny little thing, so I guess running looked like it should come naturally, and, well, I suppose it did–in fact, I was quite good! I entered a few local races and actually placed…or sometimes WON. Once I started a little collection of those gold, plastic trophies and race teeshirts…I was hooked. I was officially a runner. And that’s when I began to truly understand what it meant to be a part of the running community.
Running isn’t just a hobby–
It’s a character-defining sport.
I know this may sound far-fetched to some, but I truly believe I became the person I am today because of running—namely because of my amazing track and cross-country coach, Mr. Estey, and my inspiring track and cross-country teammates who quickly became like a second family to me. From the very beginning I understood that running takes discipline, commitment, patience and perseverance– these traits have shaped my entire life and defined me as a person to this very day.
How so? Well, first of all I learned very quickly that when it comes to running, (or getting anything I want in life), no one will ever be able to put in the work for me. When you race or when you run, your soul is right out there for all to see—plain and simple. There’s no hiding on a race course or on a track, there’s no hanging out on the sidelines, there’s no passing the ball to someone else to take the pressure off your back, and there are definitely no timeouts.When you run, you’re showing the world what you’re capable of and just how badly you want it.
Talk about sheer pressure.
Not to mention sheer glory when you succeed.
But just like any other relationship…my running relationship has certainly had it’s fair share of ups and downs. As I got a little older and headed off to high school, I (naturally) wondered what else was out there. I flirted with the idea of trying out a different sport in the past, but never made any moves…until I finally fell under the spell of something else–something that looked more attractive, more fun and more popular: cheerleading (much to my father’s dismay). I swooned over the adorable uniforms and the fleeting promise of teenage stardom, much like a 14-year-old girl crushes on the “bad boy” in school. Thankfully this was just a stint of adolescent rebellion, and soon enough I ran back into the comfortable arms (and ratty old sneakers) of my first love– running.
Over the next few years, running and I endured a lot together. We won some races, lost some races, set PRs, and suffered through shin splints, blisters, exhaustion, foot injuries, and a terrible bout of mono. I cried, I celebrated, and I cried some more over the stress and emotions that came along with running–yet we still worked through the hard times and pushed on. I trained well, qualified for a few State Championships, and ultimately became Captain of my high school cross-country team in my senior year. Then, like most high school relationships, we took a break when I went to college. I became too busy with classes, and studying, and meeting new friends. I traded my long, relaxing runs for fast-paced, interval-driven gym sessions. Staying fit wasn’t a fun hobby anymore–I worked out to forget about a stressful day and because I was petrified of the dreaded “freshman 15″ associated with the first year of dorm-living.
And then I got sick.
And for the first time ever I couldn’t run.
When I was sick I was put on 100% exercise restriction. For two years I wasn’t allowed to exercise at all…even walking up a flight of stairs or across campus (when I was well enough to return to school) was considered a workout. I was miserable. For someone as active of as me, it felt like a death sentence (as pathetic as it sounds). Eventually I recovered and became healthy enough to run again, but my body had become incredibly weak and sore and stiff and tired easily from all that time off. I could finally get back to my normal routine and yet for the first time ever I didn’t want to run– it had come naturally to me for so long, and now I could barely run a mile without my legs screaming in agony. I needed to rebuild my muscle from scratch in order to gain strength and flexibility– basically, I had to retrain my body all over again. So, I hit the gym instead.
The frustration with my body continued–this time because it just couldn’t do the things it used to. Gradually, I (sadly) started to lose that spark inside of me– the one that once defined me as a runner. Even though I slowly grew stronger over time (the resilience of the human body truly is amazing), running just wasn’t the same. The only time I would go out for a run was when I couldn’t get to the gym or when I was away for the weekend and needed to get in a workout. Essentially I only ran when I had to. I stopped timing myself and tracking my mileage on these runs– out of fear I wouldn’t live up to my own high standards. When I graduated college and moved to Boston, I immediately joined an expensive gym, created a vigorous workout schedule, and stuck to it. It was easier to take these classes, go on those machines, and work out for this long rather than be alone with my body and mind on the road. I was still afraid I wouldn’t be good enough for me– or for the runner I used to be.
But then something started happening at work…
As soon as the warm weather arrived, I noticed that more and more people were going out for a run during their lunch break or at the end of the work day– and for good reason. When it comes to running in the city, you can’t find a better location than my office. As I mentioned in a previous post, my company is located on the border of Cambridge and Boston right along the beautiful Charles River. This river route gives runners the option of running a 2-mile, 4-mile, 6-mile, or 8-mile loop– perfect for runners at any level. And that was just the beauty of it– whether someone was training for a marathon or starting to run for the first time, people of all levels were hitting the road and giving it their best shot… and they were loving it.
Every time I saw an employee come back from a run, I couldn’t help but notice how happy and refreshed they looked. I mean, what better way to relieve stress while also energizing the body and mind? Science has already proven that exercise can do just this. According to the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, exercise releases chemicals (endorphins) that make you feel happy while also releasing chemicals that suppress stress and anxiety inducing hormones (adrenalin and cortisol). Similar findings published in these two articles found in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine have also discovered that exercising during the work day improves mood, health, and overall productivity (additional evidence was also presented at an annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine).
Okay, so I’m sure most people know all this information already– exercise = a happy and healthy you! However, doing the same old exercises every day can get pretty darn stale and take some of the fun, relaxing benefits of working out away. I was starting to feel pretty burned out from my gym-centered workout routines, and I knew I needed to do something else that exercised my mind as well as my body (yes, I know yoga is SO beneficial for the body and mind but I still haven’t warmed up to the idea of it yet– maybe that will be my next mission baby steps, right?). For me, running was that “something” that used to do just this. Way back when–on the days when I wasn’t working on pacing or racing– it wasn’t rare for me to go out for a run with no idea where I was headed. I liked to call these “fun runs”– just enjoying everything around me and letting curiosity lead the way.
I was ready to try it again.
So with nothing to lose, I laced up my sneakers, put the watch away, and decided to go for a nice, easy run along the river– enjoying the views until I felt like turning around. I wasn’t going to worry about pace, or mileage, or the number of calories burned. I was going to run to escape the world (if only for a few minutes) and to appreciate my body for all that it can do. And you know what happened when I put all the negative thoughts about being good enough aside?
I ran like the wind.
That’s right. I still had it in me after all . A year later, I’m still running whenever I get a chance (I’ve even entered a few races!). Yes, I still hit the gym on most days, but when I need a different type of workout– one for the heart and the sole (like what I did there? I know, I’m good ), I lace up my running shoes and hit the road. And while I’m out there I make sure to thank the Universe for giving me strong and healthy legs that carry me through strenuous workouts–even though they never seem to get the breaks that they deserve. I thank them for putting up with the 5:00 AM workouts and the late night workouts when I know they’d much rather be resting in bed than hitting the gym or hitting the road. But most of all, I thank them for never giving up on me, and never letting me forget that once a runner…always a runner.
“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself.” – John Bingham