I remember the moment that I realized that I was a distance runner. I was at a youth track practice (sometime in elementary school – maybe 5th grade or so) that my parents, both avid runners, had signed me up for.
At this point, I had run a few local youth races (mainly for the free ice cream at the end) and had done a few seasons of YMCA track but really had no confidence in my abilities as a runner, and didn’t particularly love running. I was terrified of the longer distances, and found even the 400m quite daunting. I was in complete awe of the junior high kids, who raced such epic distances as the 1600 meters. Four whole laps! I would never have the guts to race that far!
However, at this one practice everything changed. We were doing a ladder workout – 100m, 200m, 300m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m. As usual, I got my ass kicked during the 100m, the 200m, and barely kept up in the 300m and 400m. For the 800m, the coach had us walk up to a big dirt loop that encircles a small valley. The loop was 800m and he expected us to run the whole thing without stopping. “Don’t sprint, just run a steady pace” he advised.
No one listened. As he yelled “go!” every kid shot off the line at full tilt. As usual, I quickly fell behind. Not as usual though, I found myself gradually catching up, and then picking kids off at the 200m, 300m, and 400m mark. About half-way around the big 800m loop I found myself alone…and in front!! And I felt amazing – I wasn’t gasping for air, I was just running with a magical sort of not-quite-sprinting flow.
I “won” that repeat, and every repeat on the way back down the ladder. My speedster teammates were tired-out from the long rep, and I had discovered my gift – endurance.
Although I spent many more years struggling with low confidence and self-esteem as a runner, I had found hope. Hope that I could actually be good at (and could actually enjoy!) this whole running thing. And this hope provided me with the determination, persistence, and dreams that kept me in the sport through every tough race and struggle-filled practice.
Although I never became a truly great runner, I did put in enough work to take what talent I had and turn it into an amazingly fun high school career and the absolutely amazing opportunity to run on a college team.
Even more valuable than the realization that day that I had some talent as a runner was the simultaneous epiphany that running could be enjoyable. Even if I’d never developed the speed to race on varsity or to get recruited to a D1 school, I’m certain I’d still be running. The joy that I get from just getting out the door and running is worth more than any medal or ribbon I’ve ever won in a race.
As I discovered on that dirt loop over a decade ago, there is something absolutely magical about the motion of running. All I need to do is move one foot in front of the other and, if all goes well, I’ll eventually reach that fun, flowing state, flying over the ground with the wind in my hair and the stress of the day disappearing with each drop of sweat.
How did you all discover your destiny as distance runners?