Running is a solitary endeavor post collegiately. It doesn’t typically lend itself to a very long shelf life. I am not a professional runner nor will I ever be. I’ve never been the fastest person on my team. I’ve never qualified for a national championship. I’ve never won a race that “mattered”. Running will never be my source of income.
With each passing mile, the voice that was once muted becomes louder. There are no teammates to lean on. No season to look forward to. Priorities change. Running is no longer an acceptable excuse to avoid your responsibilities. Countless hours of training for a seemingly arbitrary number that only makes sense to you. Those winter months trying to regain the feeling in your hands after an easy hour. Those early summer mornings where it’s somehow still over 70 degrees before 6AM. Why do we do this?
There’s no money to be made. Heck you may not even make it to the line in one shape. Your investment in this endeavor is a net loss financially. You’re literally paying money to run now. And for what?
I’ve given a lot of thought about my relationship with running, specifically my choice to dedicate myself to training at a high level again post-college. I, like many others, had a toxic relationship with this sport for much of my career. I’d obsess over let it completely engulf my sense of being and self-worth. Without it I was a wreck. When it wasn’t going well I was a horror to be around. Time away and a shift in priorities have provided me a fresh perspective that has made me a happier person. Running and my mental health are no longer intertwined like they once were. I have a bad run or workout? That’s all it is. It doesn’t ruin my day like it once did. Every day that I’m able to continue to do this is worth it in itself. It’s a hobby. Well I guess hobby would be an understatement if my end goal is to qualify for the trials… But I guess I mean that running is no longer something that has complete control over my life. I dedicate more time to it than more things, outside of my career of course, but it’s under my own terms.
Two weeks ago I raced again for the first time in over a year in a distance that I have not run a personal best in almost 9 years. It was more of time trail than anything. 5 of us on an empty dimly lit indoor track on a random Saturday morning. Everything in the lead up to it was not ideal to say the least. I had an awful night of sleep and awoke with a slight headache. On our drive to the track my buddy has a tire blow out on the highway. By dumb luck I somehow made it to the track. I was completely dehydrated with my only source of water left in my buddy’s car on the side of the road. I stood in the middle of the track nervous and a bit overwhelmed. I was flustered and unprepared.
Then something just clicked, Why are you letting this bother you? This is supposed to be fun, remember?
So I shrugged it off. At this point in a year without major events, there are not many opportunities to race. Why was I going to let myself ruin it because a couple things didn’t go my way. Whether it was a success of not, I was just going to go out there and just enjoy running fast and if things went right, PR.. That’s it, nothing else.
And so it went. I ran without panic. For those 15 minutes, my only concern was the next quarter mile. And the next. And the next. And as I started to labor I found comfort in the realization that I still had that competitive fire, but it manifested itself differently. Instead of ever passing second making me anxious; it brought an almost fun challenge. I was falling off a bit but if I just continued running at my current pace I would just sneak under. The question was just by how much.
This is not how I imagined this would happen when I ran my PR in 2012. For one, that it would take this long, and that it would happen in such an anti-climactic fashion. No crowd. Just a friend with a stopwatch and a couple of us hitting the track hard for no reason other than we had an open track to do it. And in some ways I’m glad it happened that way. As the years went by I’d be lying if I worried that I’d never run any faster. That particular personal best represented a different me, a different point in my life, and I am relieved to finally close that chapter on my own terms.
Running at this point isn’t very flashy anymore. We create small victories for ourselves now. Little highlights that remind us why this is all worth it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s not exactly the time I wanted, but 11 seconds faster than my personal best is more than enough to make me happy.
This August will mark 15 years in this crazy endeavor. I remind myself each day that regardless of the result, as long as I continue to have a good relationship with running, it’s worth it to me. And for now I still do.