I’ve been running regularly for almost 18 years. Before today, believe it or not, I’ve never actually reflected on this amount of time. It honestly took me by surprise. I began to think: what’s kept me interested all this time? Through injury and setback, trial and tribulation, success and accomplishment, why have I continued to run? How do I even classify what running is to me?
It’s not a hobby — I’ve had many hobbies throughout my life, but most have been relatively short-lived. I play classical piano, but intermittently. I played video games for several years, but haven’t been interested in quite some time. I even tried collecting quarters from all 50 states when I was younger to kick off a coin collection.
I wouldn’t say it’s a passion either — I’m passionate about running, but I’m also passionate about watching basketball. About playing golf. Movies. Mobile apps. Michael Jordan sneakers. Chipotle.
Running goes deeper than any of that.
Like many, I got my start during high school on the cross country team. I didn’t make the freshman golf squad and my dad told me I needed an after school commitment. He didn’t care what it was, but it had to be a school-sanctioned sport or activity. I figured well this girl I have a crush on is going out for cross country, so I’ll do that. I was 15, and that’s pretty much what governed my behavior back then. #TeenAngst
I didn’t take to running right away. I was pretty decent at it right off the bat since I have the body type for distance running, but mentally my head wasn’t in the game. Even though I progressed throughout high school and actually became pretty good, I never gave it 100%. But again, I was in high school, and let’s just say I was “easily distracted” when I was a kid. I didn’t have the maturity to commit to anything.
For the next several years, throughout college and my early 20s, I ran regularly but without purpose or intelligence. I had no real plan or training schedule and didn’t take care of my body the way I should have. Stretching and recovery days? Yeah no. I would run half marathons on a whim and then go out to the bar. Every run would be balls to the wall. Turn the music up.
Everything changed when I was 24. I developed some particularly insidious anxiety which forced me to change basically everything about my life over the next several years. Where I lived, where I worked, what I did for fun, who I spent my time with. I stopped drinking to excess. I stopped staying up late. My social life was anemic for years.
But – I kept running. Although this time, I began to run more intelligently. Not every run had to be an all-out fight. Recovery runs and pre-race shake out runs had just as much of a purpose as a hard-fought tempo run or interval session.
I began to run with meaningful intent —After a hard, frustrating day at work an easy 4-miler can be better than any beer or drug. Making big life decisions became easier after I would sort them out during a run.
I began to run with a specific goal in mind: pumping myself up, winding myself down, working through a problem and everything in-between.
I discovered the beauty and serenity that is trail running. The soft dirt under foot, the undulating terrain, the sounds of the forest, the sunlight through the trees. It’s on the trails that I discovered how truly spiritual running can be. This is where I’d like my running focus to be long-term. Not to mention the trail running community is one of the best communities of people I’ve ever witnessed.
I started taking my headphones out more and more. Turns out that running without heavy metal or EDM music pounding in my ears can be an extremely cathartic experience. This would also lead me to discovering the awesomeness that is the podcast – I regularly listen to podcasts on long runs now.
Running is more than just a passion, a hobby, or something constructive to keep my physical mind and body healthy as I age. It’s one of my best friends and one of the most important relationships I have.
Like most, I see friendship as a two-way street. I give a little, I take a little, they give a little, they take a little. The give and take distribution is not always equal, but there is a balance that is struck — a balance that makes the friendship worthwhile for both parties involved.
And like all friendships, sometimes devils like selfishness, jealousy and arrogance make an appearance. I’m certainly guilty of entertaining these devils at one time or another, plus others. We don’t intend to hurt our friends, but we do from time to time. We’re only human.
I’ve taken from running, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve taken shortcuts, taken the easy road, taken advantage of the god-given ability I was born with.