Every time those few words slip from my mouth, I am almost always reminded by other people that A) I’m crazy B) I’m weird or C) I’m a strange combination of the two. The follow up question is usually, “How do you enjoy something that is so painful?” Despite numerous attempts, I have yet to come up with one convincing reason why.
It’s more that I can’t picture my life without running. Running has given me more than strong calves and a dorky watch tan. It has given me more than morning sunrises and ruined toenails. It has given me experiences that have shaped me as a person.
I’ll always remember the feeling. It was the very first day of cross country practice and I stood there, a timid freshman in my barely-worn Asics and watched the older kids. They stretched and joked about last weekend’s party as I continued to gaze upon them, feeling more and more like a little kid. When it was time to start our run, we separated into teams and I snuck to the back of the varsity pack. Much to my surprise, the team captain at the time, Allie Marquis started asking me about myself and including me in the conversation-I couldn’t believe it. The captain of the whole team was interested in me? As insignificant as this event sounds, it meant so much to me as a little struggling freshman. The fact that a senior was not “too cool” to reach out to a younger kid was an inspiration to me.
When the novelty of running began to wear off, I came to learn my next major lesson. Running is 99 percent mental. This is due to the unhealthy amount of time during a race that you have to think. In fact, by the end of most races, I have concocted in my head multiple scenarios which involve me either hiding behind a large tree or being spiked by the girl next to me: they usually all end in me dropping out of the race.
But I have to remind myself to put my thoughts aside and let my legs continue on. This became my strategy this summer when my coach told me that we would be running up a mountain to 14,000 feet. After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I gathered up my energy bars and my thoughts, and let my body handle what my mind couldn’t. Trekking up a steep and rocky mountain, the air became thin and my spirits were low.
With nothing but a few Clif Shot Bloks in my stomach, I wanted nothing more than to sit down and never get up again—but I forced my mind to be quiet and focused on merely placing one foot in front of the other. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the mountain. Only four hours had passed, and I had learned to conquer my mental fears. One step at a time.
By far my most humbling moment came from an experience that I can’t believe I’m sharing. My freshman year, we took a trip to Chicago to compete in a 5k race. The race went as planned, until the finish, when we had to remove the timing chips from our spikes. As I crossed the finish line, I felt the way I usually felt (like I had just been run over by a bus), but I proceeded through the chute as normal.
I pushed my way through the white-faced runners spewing their breakfast all over the grass to one of the officials who was helping remove the chips. I propped my leg up on his and he started to untie my laces and remove the chip. But before he could finish unlacing the chip, he looked up at me with a questioning look on his face. As I looked down, I could see a small puddle forming on his shoe. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
I had just peed on him.
Before he could ask any questions, I quickly threw my chip at him and darted off. Mortified, I ran back to the tent and vowed to never drink a sip of water anytime within 48 hours before my next race. Two years later, I am now capable of retelling this story because I have learned from it. Besides teaching me to limit my fluid intake, I also gathered an important lesson from this embarrassing incident: you have to be able to laugh at yourself. Life is too short to sweat over the small stuff, so you just have to get over yourself and accept that we as humans make mistakes. (Now, if only I could convince the official about this.)
Through these experiences I have found my relationship with running to be a combination of love and hate. My first runs with the older girls on varsity were some of the worst and best hours of my life. Despite my pathetic attempt to keep up, I slowly learned from them how to be a leader. I never imagined that some day I would be the one calling the younger girl “my freshman,” or calming their nerves before a big race.
My trek up the 14,000 foot mountain (although it was excruciating) was one of my proudest moments. Standing at the peak, I felt that nothing could compare to the mental agony that I had just been subjected to. Still to this day, no AHAP test or expert-level Sudoku is capable of teaching me what that mountain taught me: to suck it up.
Although it seems strange, my humiliating moment of peeing on the man may be the most valuable. There is no other way to learn humility than there is to experience it. And what better way than to do something as ridiculous and toddler-like as that?
You may still call me crazy or weird, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is through these struggles that I have grown into who I am. A runner.