I was in the locker room the other day talking with one of my friends about our weekend running plans. A co-worker overheard us and chimed in, “Wow, I wish I enjoyed running.” We chatted for a while about how she had tried it on and off, but hasn’t been able to stick with it. She insisted she was going to start up again when the weather got better or when it didn’t hurt her knees or when the planets aligned just so. I offered some encouragement as I packed up my gym bag and left.
I find myself in this situation a lot, nonrunners telling me they wished they were runners only to reveal seven different excuses for why they aren’t. For some reason, it seems that people think that because I run I think everyone else should run too. This is not true. However, I also don’t like it when people dismiss running with, I’m just not a runner or my knees can’t handle it or I tried running, but I suck at it or something like that. I think most people could run if they really wanted to. The problem for most people is that it’s not easy.
I started running when I was 19. I was a very stressed-out sophomore in college taking way too many classes, working my “job” at the rock gym, participating in multiple activities and music ensembles and intramural sports and was in the middle of a few very confusing relationships. I started running in the winter in Minnesota around the indoor track in hiking shoes. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that if I made it around that track 5 times, it was a mile.
The first time I made it to a mile I called my parents. I told them with pride how I had run the whole way, how only a week or two ago I could only run two laps. It felt so good to see improvement like that; I had control of something, something was moving forward in my life. I ran through sleep deprivation and tears and shin splints and eventually got a pair of New Balance trail running shoes from REI, trusting the sales associate completely.
As spring began and the snow started to melt and classes only got harder and relationships only got more complicated I started running more. A good friend showed me some routes from campus and pointed out how it was impossible to get lost running in Minnesota: you could literally see a mailbox two miles away and run to it. I have no idea what pace I was running – I didn’t have a watch or a cell phone. I don’t know how far I was running or even how long. I wasn’t running to get in shape or lose weight or to train for a race; I was running because I needed to run. It still wasn’t easy, but it was good. It was a victory each time I laced up my shoes.
Toward the end of the school year I went out for a run around midnight. I didn’t have a headlamp so I just ran in the dark. It wasn’t the first time I had done this. I love running at night; it feels magical. But on this night I fell off a curb and sprained my ankle. I limped back to my dorm and went to bed and in the morning my ankle was stiff and swollen and it was clear that I would not be running for some time. And I think that’s what sealed the deal for me about running: not being able to run.
I longed to run. I did ankle ABC’s during class, RICE’d, and eventually bought an ankle brace, the kind with pokey metal inserts up both sides of your leg. I started running again, gingerly, and savored every minute. It hurt. It hurt my ankle and it hurt my shins and it hurt my recently sedentary cardiovascular system, but I loved it. In a world full of questions and problems and tasks and schedules, the time I spent running was a time for me. A time to be myself and to think or pray through things, to get stronger, to be better.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that running isn’t for everyone, but even for the people that running is for, it’s not easy. I’ve been injured countless times: shin splints to start; sprained ankles; ITBS; tendonitis; pulled muscles; skinned knees; chafing; bonking; and I could go on. I’ve come back from injury and illness to running, each time more motivated, because I love it. I love the way it feels. I love traveling fast on my own feet. I love the wind in my hair and the sun on my face and the way thoughts and worries float around and reorganize themselves while I’m running. I love the community. I love the friends I’ve made. I love talking about nerdy running stuff, races, pro athletes, gear, and training plans. And at the same time, even as the majority of my life is spent working on or thinking about or participating in running, I try to hold it with open hands. I’ve done it for long enough to know that I might not always be able to do it, so I try to love it in the moment and I have faith that if the day comes when I can no longer run, I will find something else I love.
So, co-worker in the locker room, friend from high school, and random guy on the street, run if you want to run. It will be hard at first, but it’s worth it. And if you don’t want to run that’s okay, but please do something else and love it.
How did you start running? What do you say to people who tell you they wished they liked running?