Sunday, April 21, 2013

Seventeen Years and Counting

Most runners can point to a seminal moment when they stopped being a runner and started being a runner. It can take months or even years for this transformation to occur, but once it does, there's no turning back.
In my case, it didn't take long.
I started running in the summer of 1995. It was largely on a whim; I saw the list of fall sports tryout days and times in the local newspaper and figured, "Why not?"
For two weeks I plodded around town in basketball shoes. I struggled to finish any workout without walking. Eventually I invested in running shoes (but not, as a means of maintaining my pride, in little nylon running shorts).
The shoes gave me shin splits, and I was ready to say the hell with it. I told my coach as much. Given that I was the 14th man on the squad (out of 14), I wouldn't have been much of a loss.
I don't remember exactly what my coach said, so I've romanticized it thusly: "You shouldn't give up on yourself, because I haven't given up on you." (Sounds poignant, no?) So I stuck around.
In my first race, I finished our 5K course in 29:45 and was dead last. I was last, again, in the second meet, but I did shave a minute off my time. The third meet was on the road, and the course was shorter, so even though I was in the mid-20s, I didn't grasp what it meant.
It wasn't until the next home meet -- when I broke 23 minutes -- that I officially became a runner. There was no turning back, of course. I signed up for indoor track, even though it meant running around the God-forsaken fishbowl that is the Lowell High gym 23 1/2 times for the two mile, not to mention training outside throughout the winter. I did spring track, too, even if it meant regularly  joining no less than a dozen other kids in a ridiculously crowded JV mile heat. I ran through the summer, too -- though that wasn't much of a sacrifice, since I was an incoming high school sophomore with nothing better to do.
Seventeen years after my runner moment, I'm still at it. I don't run as often (stupid adulthood), and I'm not as fast (stupid aging process), but I'm enjoying myself just as much (the last week notwithstanding). Plus, I'm discovering that, by running smarter, I may actually be running faster after all.