A Bit on Running

I promise this isn’t going to turn into a running blog (I wouldn’t even know what that entails), but I do want to talk about running today. I ran competitively for only four years–junior high and the first two years of high school. I ran cross-country, so races of 2.5-3.5 miles on trails, and I began training in the summers. The season began when school began and ended by early November, because this is New England.

Freshman year of high school. Yeesh, could those glasses be any bigger??

I was pretty good at running those distances. My high school’s home course was at Bryant College (pfft, I know that link says Bryant University, but it was a college way back then), and that was also where the division meets were held, so I knew that course well. There was a big hill at one point, coming out of the woods, and how I loved to attack that hill and pass people on my way up. I had a decent kick at the end of races, too; I could usually manage to sprint by anyone who was nearby. I liked running. So why did I quit after sophomore year?

A combination of reasons. I wanted a job, but I probably could have worked one in around cross-country practices; the season, after all, wasn’t that long. My coach left and I didn’t know the new coach. It’s possible I would have continued running without that switch. The new coach came through my line in the grocery store–that was my job, cashiering–the summer before my junior year to try to convince me to come back, which felt kind of…icky. But I think the big reason I quit is because I was all-division my sophomore year and I started hearing things like, You should be all-state by senior year. I didn’t hear that as encouragement; I heard that as pressure. And while I’m very good at self-imposed goals, other people’s expectations feel like a failure possibility. And the surest way not to fail is to decline to compete.

(The best place I can send you for a deeper explanation of that phenomenon is Alfie Kohn. His books should be required reading.)

So I haven’t really run, except for one summer in college, for about 25 years. But all this time, I felt like a runner. At various times I’d consider it, but I was always tied to a nursling or something and it just felt like too many logistics to figure out. For most of this year I’ve struggled with insomnia, and at some point this spring I realized it was light out at 5:15 am, so why not get out of bed and go for a walk through the neighborhood? It was a chance to center my head before having to deal with everyone else’s needs and demands. By the end of June, I felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of my own head, and I began to run.

My 4yo stretching with me before a recent evening run.

When I was fourteen, my grandmother loudly declared at a family gathering that I had “a runner’s body–nothing extra.” And while I was mortified about the latter part, she’s right about the first part. I do have a runner’s body, and it quickly remembered what to do. I’ve gradually increased distance and decreased my time per mile. Somewhere along the way I signed up for a local 5K, which takes place in a week. My first goal was to run it without embarrassing myself. As my split times fell, I changed my goal to under 9 minutes per mile. I hit that and quietly decided I wanted to run the course in under 27 minutes. I’ve struggled to run 5K through my neighborhood in that time, but my neighborhood is full of hills. Yesterday I ran the comparatively flat 5K race course for practice and finished in 26:39. So I guess I need a new goal for that race.

As I said, I’m good with self-imposed goals. If I’m running, I’m running for myself, and I think that was my hang-up in high school. At a time when I wasn’t at all sure of my own expectations for myself, I simply knew I wasn’t comfortable serving as the instrument of other people’s expectations. The coach who came through my line wasn’t interested in how I felt about running; he knew I was pretty good and wanted me on the team so the team would be better. In the same way, my guidance counselor didn’t care where I wanted to go to college; he pulled me into his office freshman year to lay out a plan that would get me into Princeton, because nobody from my high school had gotten in there yet, and it would reflect well on the school. That was my high school: as a smart, moderately talented student, I was viewed not as an individual with individual wants and interests but as a means to an end that might glorify the school.

That last paragraph is why this post is also filed under “education.” If there’s one overarching goal I have for my kids’ educational experience, it’s that they’re not viewed as a tool for someone else to gain glory. The only goals I’m interested in are their own.

Back to running. I’m loving it. This morning I ran five miles, the longest distance I’ve run this summer. I feel good out there, even when I’m a little gaspy and my thighs feel like rubber. I can feel myself getting stronger, and I feel awesome at the end of every run. I’ll be forty years old next month and I’ve given birth three times and I ran five miles today! I’m so looking forward to next weekend’s 5K. And even though this isn’t going to be a running blog, I hope you don’t mind if I let you know how it goes.

14 thoughts on “A Bit on Running

  1. Victoria

    Most excellent. I most definitely do NOT have a runner’s body, but I am enjoying the little bits and pieces of exercise I am doing, although I have to force myself to do it. A little discipline won’t kill me…

    1. amy Post author

      I think the discipline is part of the overall feeling of awesome, along with making sure I claim enough of the day to get a run in. Being able to accomplish both of those things contributes to feeling better about myself, as much as the actual exercise, I think.

  2. bells

    how did you even run with such big glasses?? ha ha ha
    I have been wanting to write a yoga post but didn’t want anyone to think I was going to be a yoga blogger – same thought process as you but I think I will do it because this was good to read.
    I’m glad you’re doing it, that you’re doing it for yourself and that your self imposed goals are working for you. They are the best kind.

  3. suburbancorrespondent

    It feels good to challenge yourself this way, doesn’t it? I didn’t really want to be exercising as much as I am presently, but exerting myself really does help my mood, so I’m loath to give it up. Essentially, I NEED to exercise as much for my mental health as for my physical conditioning, at this point in my life.

    And you are so lucky to have a runner’s body! On me, EVERYTHING bounces.

    1. amy Post author

      A million yeses. I need it for my mental health too.

      Also yes on the runner’s body. All things considered, while there are some times I wish I had actual cleavage, most of the time, I am pretty darn happy not to have to worry about it all. ;)

  4. Michelle

    :) Even the cat is stretching with you guys!!

    My big girl loves running. She sometimes runs laps in the yard and times herself. :) And she’s all legs. I should take her with me on walks (and eventually runs again), because we did that a lot last fall and I loved it. But now if I leave the house it’s because I need those few sacred moments of silence. I’m so torn.

  5. donna lee

    I had a pair of those glasses too. In all my wedding photos…..

    I hate running. I did it in college because it was the late 70′s and everyone was running (curse you Jim Fixx!). I ran for quite a while but got shin splints so I quit. I did t’ai chi for a while and loved it and have been thinking I’d like to start getting up with Pk’s alarm (an hour early) and doing that again. It’s good for my mental and physical health. Now to make the move and do it…..

    1. amy Post author

      I got shin splints in high school. Knock on wood, I don’t know what’s different, but so far so good on those.

      I *really* enjoy the kickboxing part of my exercise class. Punching & kicking things has been excellent for my mental health (ha!). I know nothing about t’ai chi but it looks calming!

  6. Cameron

    I have never, ever liked running….so those that enjoy it are awe-inspiring to me.
    I’m so glad you are doing something just for you!

    1. amy Post author

      Thank you Cameron. Believe me, there are parts I don’t like at the time, but overall, it’s a Good Thing, especially right now.

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