So I've been thinkin' (uh oh, run for cover!!), ever since Pam in Mystic, CT (I love to write that for some reason...Mystic...it's sounds so cool) posted to the Ultra List about running philosophies. Pam has a great post on her blog about what her running philosophy is, and then a few others chimed in and shared their thoughts as well. And I'm wondering, what on earth is my philosophy of all this madness? There's got to be some rhyme or reason, right?
Well, I've never really thought about it before, until now. I guess one must go back to their roots to really understand/unearth their philosophy. So here we go!
Running has been in my life since, oh, let's see, I was eight and ran my first one-mile race in Oak Park, IL (Frank Lloyd Wright Races). But it wasn't a "thing" for me until about 1995 when some of my high school girlfriends convinced me I should go out for the track team. I made the team (but then again so did anyone who showed up for 'freeplay' runs at that time). Oddly enough, I began with the sprinters, out of my own volition. Why? Because I was too afraid to do the "long" distance 800m, 1600m or, God forbid, the 3200m events! So Coach D. took me on and set to make a sprinter out of me. Wow, I was always the last one off the blocks, and I vividly recall the first time I used the starter blocks...I fell. Yes, believe it or not, I tripped over my own feet and fell. Go figure. Have you ever had rubber track burn on your knees before? It hurts, and looks completely ridiculous. After the first few weeks of practice, sprinters were grouped with the distance runners (which is what all my friends were) and we did our 2-mile warm-up run to Taylor Park and back. I was always one of the first people to finish the warm-up. So finally, before our first official meet, Coach D. asked me what I thought about running the 800m. I wanted to cry because I felt like I didn't really have a choice and I agreed to run it. It was painful, pure anguish, everything burned, my legs were numb and I had a sharp pain in my shoulders and sides from all the lactic build-up. I wanted to die. I was hooked. From that first meet at Hinsdale Central I was a distance runner. I think I came in 7th/8, but I loved it! As a team, we all set one individual big goal for ourselves and then we helped each other work to meet our big goal. Mine was a 6:10 mile; I had never broken 7 minutes before and I thought 6:10 was somehow reasonable. At the final conference meet of the season, I was slated to run the mile for my team. It was a glorious cold and rainy night on the outdoor track, and I beat my goal: a 6:09 mile, and good enough for fourth out of more than 10.
So that's where it all really began. I never did go back and run another season with the track team because I made the varsity dance squad the second semester of my freshman year and I decided that pom poms and shakin' my groove thing were more fun. But, I never let go of my running. I didn't enjoy the structure of the track team, I just really liked the meets and the long training runs with my friends (3 miles was long back then!). Wow, that's 14 years of runnin'! Where does the time go?
Until about 2004, running was just there. It was something I did because I could and because it enabled me to keep up my hearty appetite :) I ran a few miles, never more than four, Monday through Friday. It didn't matter if it was outside or on a treadmill. I just did it and I never complained about it. I bought running shoes because I thought they were 'cute', not because they were the right shoe. And the thought of running without music was absolutely appalling. There was no way I could be left alone with my thoughts for half an hour to an hour. Yikes! Music was my meditation, and I just happened to enjoy running at the same time. Funny how things flip flop. Running is now my meditation, and sometimes I have music along, but not so much anymore. When I moved to North Carolina after college, for a job, I floundered for a few months trying to find where I fit in this new place, and then I saw an ad for a race, the Run for Mercy 5k in New Bern. I signed up without a second thought. And thus began my racing problem :) I ran every 5k I could find in the area (and there were A LOT). I placed a few times, and that was fun, but I knew I was only doing it because it gave me an edge. I was a runner, and I was doing it completely on my own.
This is how it was for another few years. I kept up my running/racing problem merely to say that I did it. Then life set in when I took a job back in Chicago, and suddenly I needed running.
I learned that shutting off the music, or even just listening to soft relaxing music, allowed me to totally zen out. I could actually get "in the zone" where everything felt light and easy. My legs felt as though they weren't even touching the ground, my lungs felt open and relaxed, and nothing ached. Running became my outlet, my escape so to speak. It was no longer something to gloat about or bring up in conversation. It was almost like it was my secret; I didn't want everyone else to find out about my super-awesome obsession and mess it all up :) Kind of like how you don't really want ultrarunning to be advertised too much because then it'll get all mucked up, sucking out all the fun and making it too competitive to enjoy ;)
I always ran alone. I never invited anyone to come with me on my runs because it was me time. But then one freezing ass cold day in December 2007, I decided I wanted to up the ante and try for my first 1/2 marathon, so I joined the CARA winter training group. I went once. I didn't like the group mentality of it all, and I also got sidelined by life, and a wicked bout of shin splints. That sucked. However, as soon as my doc cleared me for some pavement pounding, I signed up with a new running group in the city, Chicago Beer Runners and, well, that's where things got interesting.
Enter: competitive juices. Running was now not only a social outlet, but also a source of friendly competition among friends. I ran more races in 2008 than I have run in any previous year. I started pushing the proverbial envelope, seeing how far I could go and how much I could do. I ran my first half marathon, in September, then I ran another in October. Then, I thought perhaps I could do one better and I ran my first ultramarathon (50k) two weeks later. All this while still having problems with my shin. Of course, Bad Influence Mike didn't help suppress the ultrarunning bug ;-) Only kidding...he's not that bad of an influence, but it's totally all Mike's doing, getting me into ultrarunning. You're my boy, blue!
So all this brings me to now. And I guess I still don't really have a grasp on what my 'philosophy' of running is. I do know that running (for me) is an ever-changing thing; something that tweaks itself accordingly to work with the ebb and flow of life; to match my needs at a given point. It's not a fad for me, it's not a novelty that will fade with time (the mere fact that I've been doing it so long is testament to that).
Running is the one thing that has always been with me, no matter what. That's what makes an injury or a setback so heartbreaking for me. Not running sucks. Things change, things end, people come and go, but running is always there. It should be added to the list of 'guarantees' in life: death, taxes...and running :)
It is a part of me, in the same way that blonde hair and blue eyes are a part of me. Part of the package deal. I do not give up my running for others, I do not change it for anyone. It's all on my terms. This year, my goal is to relax a little more and allow myself to heal the right way. I'm still battling with those shin splints, though they are much more under control now, and I've earned myself some PFPS in my right knee on account of my increased mileage this year already. I need to get back to the basics and remember that it's all just fun and games for me out there on the trail...I'm not fast enough to be or feel as competitive as my heart thinks I am; perhaps I need to lead more with my brain? :)
Running is my constant. It's as essential as oxygen and water. It makes me who I am. I love it for all its pain, glory, disappointment, excitement, adventure, setbacks, and nonsense.
I run, therefore I am :)