I started running in 8th grade because I was tired of losing every softball game we played. In my school those two seasons conflicted. I figured if I ran cross country I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to win. Ha! I hated the first mile I ever ran and my coach told me that running was like scotch, you have to acquire a taste for it. I ran throughout high school and while I loved races, what I remember most about that time is the closeness of my team. We spent so much time together – even had a co-ed locker room. Our coach did our laundry and fed us breakfast every day, snacks, and even sometimes dinner. I loved my team.
I gave up running in college, all fitness really. I got back into it as I started applying for officer school in the Marine Corps. It made me pay for my absence. Running was a necessary evil during the first year or so of training. I didn’t enjoy being forced to run. I didn’t enjoy running in a group, I always felt like I was trying to keep up, like the run was never my own. One particularly tough training day I hopped off the bus, so frustrated with the day and the actions of my peers, and I took off running. I didn’t have a watch or map or route in mind. I just ran until I was lost and no longer frustrated. The run was mine again.
I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008, while at the Basic School. I figured that would be good motivation to get back into running. It wasn’t. The week before the marathon I saw the calendar notification “MCM, one week.” I mentioned it in class (I was in MOS school at the time) and my friend bet me that I couldn’t run the thing without training. He bet me a Ruth’s Chris steak dinner and I accepted. I showed up completely unprepared and not just under trained, but untrained. The closest thing to preparation I did was creating a playlist and buying some crocs for the ride home. I told myself I’d run the race, eat my dinner, and slap a 26.2 sticker on the back of my car and be done with it.
I can’t remember my time, probably close to 6 hours. I do remember lying on the bathroom floor the next night sobbing with my blistered feet in the air trying to understand why anyone would do that twice. It felt like someone was holding hot plates to the soles of my feet.
A few months later my friend (also a Marine) told me she read about a race in Florida – 35 miles along the beach. In true Marine fashion I countered “Well there’s this 50 mile race too,” to which she upped the game by mentioning the Umstead 100. Well, any ultra runner will tell you the rest of the story.
Most of my running has been unscripted. I’m often the least prepared runner at the start line, showing up 5 minutes prior missing socks or a sports bra, maybe with a tight head from too many glasses of red wine the night prior. Which is probably largely why I never win any races and why I’ve had to drop out of many more, but that’s ok. Running for me isn’t about that. I like to go fast and I like to compete, and I’m definitely out there searching for something, it’s just usually not a certain time or place. I rarely remember course details – I’ve run the MCM 10 times now and couldn’t give you a single course direction – but I remember how I felt. I remember what I thought about or what epiphanies I had. I remember what the course taught me about failing or achieving. That’s what I love about running – it’s always there. You can fail, you can show up after a decade hiatus, it’s still there.
My run across America has certainly been the hardest “race” I’ve ever run. It’s taken me a year to even be able to jump back into some of those memories. There was so much pain and doubt and loneliness. But that’s the paradox of running, the more you suffer the more you cherish the experience. Running has been an integral part of my life, but I’ve never viewed it as my whole life. I don’t live to run. I’ll skip a race or a training run if the happy hour runs a little late. Running enhances my life but doesn’t rule it. It’s the unstructured freedom in my day or week. It’s the one thing I don’t have to make a list for, follow up with emails, or edit. It belongs to me and whomever I want to share it with.