The other day, I was cooling down after finishing my speed workout. For me, a cool down after speed work consists of 800m of what I like to call the “high school PE shuffle jog.” As I plodded down the homestretch, hunched over and barely lifting my feet off the track, a thought passed through my mind, unbidden but entirely true in that moment. I hate running.
This might seem surprising for someone who has run her entire life and chose to train for a marathon, even though the culmination of that training would be a 26.2 mile training run and not an actual race. It might seem like a strange thought for someone who, even when she wasn’t training for anything, ran 1,000 miles in a year and who credits running with keeping her sane. But it didn’t surprise me at all. I have spent a large portion of my life actively hating running. And that’s why I’m writing a Thanksgiving post about it. Naturally.
I know there are people who genuinely love running with no reservations. I know people who struggle with taper and who have a hard time cutting back (even when it would be good for them!) because they simply love getting out there and hitting the pavement so much. I know these people are being honest about their love of running, but… I just don’t get it. Running and I have typically had more of a sibling-esque relationship. Running is the annoying little brother that would poke me in the back seat during car rides and tell me I smelled bad, so I would punch him in the shoulder. But ultimately, I knew that he would be around whether I liked it or not, so I would always come to terms with that and make up.
All while growing up, I just assumed I would run track once I hit junior high. My dad had been a good runner in high school, my older sister was an exceptional runner, and I was typically one of the fastest girls in my PE class. So every year at the elementary school track meet, I’d lace up my little shoes, face my all-consuming nerves, and race those races as hard as I could because I knew that running was my future. Note that “hard” doesn’t mean “fast.” My parents have a video of elementary-aged me swerving all the way to the far edge of the lane next to mine before returning to my lane at the end of the race because I was trying so hard I couldn’t even run straight. I wish that kind of obsessive effort were as cute in 27 year olds as it is in 10 year olds.
By the time I hit junior high and was ready to start running track for real, I knew two things for sure: racing was the most nerve-wracking experience out there (still true) and I really wanted to be good at it. I had a pretty bad case of second-child inferiority syndrome in regards to running. It would have been hard not to since my older sister was, at the time, literally the fastest middle distance female runner in the history of the state of Idaho (she set overall state records in the 400 and 800). Fortunately, my junior high track coach saved me from a lifetime of my inferiority being on display for everyone to see by turning me into a hurdler. It’s actually a pretty good tactic fast kids who just wouldn’t be fast enough to win open events. And it worked out well for me. Crippling nerves and hatred for running aside, I had a successful high school career and consistently earned points for my team during our State meet every year.
And this was one of the reasons why running has remained in my life, despite my mixed feelings for it. Scrawny, nerdy, and socially awkward girls with anxiety and self-esteem issues tend to struggle in high school, especially when they have a well-liked, accomplished older sibling that everyone in the whole school knows. Running track gave me both something to be good at and a group where I belonged, so I built up a loyalty to running, despite the fact that every year I dreaded track season and every day during track season I dreaded practice.
After I graduated high school, I ran track at a NCAA Division III university for two and a half years (DIII, by the way, means no scholarships). I could say a lot about college track, but I won’t. For various reasons, it didn’t go well for me. So many different issues contributed to my failure that it would be impossible to lay them all out. I struggled because of everything from my own emotional state (I went through probably my worst period of depression in college) to the coaching (there was nothing wrong with my coach’s personality or tactics, but I think my particular body would have responded better to different workouts) to my own lack of talent (I tried to be a heptathlete which involves coordination and learning new skills… not my strong points). It was a frustrating and sometimes devastating experience, and it’s probably a large part of why I spent five years thinking I had absolutely no talent whatsoever.
I stopped running competitively, even competitively with myself, because I hated running and now I wasn’t even good at it. But I kept running because, like that annoying sibling, I also needed it and would have missed it desperately if I cut it out of my life entirely. Running was the best treatment for my anxiety and depression that I had found, and after spending one semester not working out at all and seeing all my motivation and willpower dissipate, I begrudgingly went back to running regularly because I needed to graduate, and it seemed like running somehow helped me balance the rest of my life. When I ran, I went to bed early, got up early and got stuff done. When I didn’t run, I didn’t do any of the other things either.
In order to remain a functional adult, I continued to run, sometimes enjoying it, sometimes hating it, but mostly just accepting it as a part of my life. It wasn’t until I got into triathlons that my interest in running was rejuvenated. And, especially since I started marathon training this year, I’ve started to realize that maybe I’m not actually horrible at it after all. I’ve been enjoying the number-crunching and the goal-setting, even when I’m not enjoying the running itself. I’m realizing what I knew in high school—that there’s more to running than running itself. There’s goals and achievements and friendship and beautiful views.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for running—my annoying little brother. I’m thankful that running gave me a place to belong in high school when I wouldn’t have had one otherwise. I’m thankful that running is now giving me something to share with my dad. I’m thankful that running gave me a way to balance myself for years before I discovered the joys of cycling. I’m thankful that growing up running taught me to appreciate what my body can do for me more than what it looks like. I’m thankful that I started running in junior high, and I’m thankful that for some reason I kept going and that running is still a part of my life fifteen years later.
Even if it is a twerp.