How I Fell In Love With Running

Let me start off by making something very clear: I am by no means an all-star runner. I’m not even a great runner. I don’t have a typical runner’s body: I have short legs, flat feet, and zero natural ability. I ran three seasons of cross country and two seasons of spring track in high school solely for the social aspect. I didn’t care about my race times or impressing my coaches, and I really only stayed on the team because I loved my teammates and because we got some pretty nice apparel every season. Also because who would turn down a good pre-meet pasta party? Those were the highlight of my career as a high school athlete.

I was always, without fail, the last to return from our team runs and usually dead last in every race, too. I definitely complained about running more than I actually ran, and I doubt I really ever improved over the course of four years. I used to tell myself that I was putting in all the effort I could, but that something just prevented me from making progress like my teammates did. I just wasn’t meant to be a runner, and there wasn’t really anything I could do to change it.

I remember the first moment I thought maybe I actually cared about the sport of running and not just bonding with my team: it was my senior year, and I discovered I had plantar fasciitis in both feet about a month into cross country season. It made running more than a mile or so pretty painful, and I was forced to take a backseat for the rest of the season. I went through physical therapy and did a lot of cheering and hanging out with my coach at meets. At first I was kind of psyched: a season of cross country with minimal running but all the team bonding benefits sounded great. But it wasn’t long before I started to feel sad when all the girls went out for their long slow runs (which we lovingly referred to as LSD), and I stayed behind to stretch. Eventually I was itching to put my sneakers on and actually run more than a lap or two around the track.

When I came to college, I didn’t really make it a point to keep running. I went out on the occasional run, but eventually I told myself running in the city wasn’t my thing and I became more of a go-to-the-gym girl than a go-out-for-a-run girl - that is, when I decided I was going to be active at all. I even joined a gym back home so I could go over winter and summer break, and traded four-mile runs for long sessions on the elliptical. The only times I ever really missed running was when I attended the Boston Marathon every April. I would go with my friends to the finish line, and I was always mesmerized at the sight. What never ceased to amaze me was the sheer number of men and women who exhibited such superhuman strength to run 26.2 miles, rain or shine. Every year, as I stood near the finish line and cheered, I vowed that someday I’d run the marathon myself.

I started to take running more seriously during my final year at college. I did my student teaching in the fall, which meant that my schedule was more predictable and structured than it had been any other semester. It was easier to schedule running into my days. I downloaded the MapMyRun app and picked songs for my running playlist that actually pushed me to pick up the pace. I started to explore the neighborhood I live in on my runs and discovered it was a great way to get to know the area even more and take advantage of living in Boston, which is something I definitely took for granted the first year or two of my college career. I learned the difference between my body telling me I needed to stop, and my mind telling me I wanted to stop (spoiler alert: it was usually my mind). I actually tried to push myself, and discovered strength and endurance I never knew I had back during my high school running days. I began to feel like I could actually achieve some of those running goals: maybe someday I’d be able to complete a half marathon and call myself an Actual Serious Runner.

I realized that the thing I lacked most was motivation: I always told myself that “someday” I would run seriously again and “someday” I’d train for a real race. It took me until this past year to realize that “someday” is a pretty vague timeline, and that if I really wanted to do all those things, then I had to actually start doing them now. Seems like a no-brainer, but it took me a while to be able to understand what it meant for me. I decided that because a half marathon is a pretty lofty goal for me, a more reasonable choice would be to register for a 5k. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the metric system, a 5k is a 3-mile race. Pretty low-key, and definitely doable for me since that’s how long all of my high school cross country races were. It was a goal I knew I could achieve, but one that I still would need to put work in for. Once I got around to actually registering, it became a lot easier to convince myself to get off my couch and go for a run. I told myself that even though I knew I could run three miles, I wanted to be able to be proud of my time, and that meant putting actual effort in and not just barely crossing the finish line. This past weekend, I finally got the chance to run it. It wasn’t a great time, but I’m proud to say I finished.

I think one of the reasons I was able to be so much more successful with running now than I was in high school is because I put the time in and started off small. I used to dive in headfirst into cross country or track season without any pre-season training, thinking it would start off slow and I’d be fine. The problem was that while it did start off slow, it still wasn’t quite my level of slow, and I was behind from the first week and never fully caught up. It also helped to have the MapMyRun app that tracked all my workouts, including my routes and times and a whole bunch of other stuff. Keeping track of all that data allowed me to plan workouts the way you’re actually supposed to. Some days I went for longer runs and just focused on getting through them, and other days I did shorter distances as fast as I could. Not always caring about the time on my watch made it a lot easier to actually enjoy the run and the atmosphere around me. Boston and Brookline are great places to run, and discovering that was one of the reasons I was able to get myself to keep going day after day.

I don’t know if I’ll ever actually get around to running a full 26.2 mile marathon. With my plantar fasciitis, it seems unlikely I’ll be able to get that many months of training in without my feet rebelling against me. But now I have a better idea of what I’m capable of, and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve, even though in the grand scheme of things, it seems small. Maybe someday I’ll be able to say I ran the Boston Marathon, but for now I’ll just keep running as long and as far as I can.