I believe that running is the purest form of exercise. All you need is your body (and either a treadmill or space to move forward). I prefer to wear shoes too but some argue that you’re better off without them. You can run fast or slow, short distance or long, intervals or a sustained pace. Running requires an internal will to keep moving fast enough so that you have a flight phase, a moment when you are completely off of the ground, so that you are not walking. It can be an expression of elation (running toward a loved one), of panic (running away from an attacker or a threat), and simply exercise (starting and ending in the same place because you were running just to run).
I started running in eighth grade when I was in the beginning of my eating disorder and wanted to speed up my weight loss with exercise. I asked my super fit aunt what was the best exercise to lose weight and she responded, “just run, El!”. So I did. It was 2003 so I had a Walkman with a CD from The Ataris, So Long, Astoria, that I ran to everyday. Over time I realized I was making it to the same point in my run at an earlier point in the CD - I was getting faster. I also gained stamina and ran farther and for longer times. I ran without a watch, a MapMyRun route, or any data at all. It was pure and it was wonderful.
I ran track and cross country in high school and I was fine and it was fine. I wasn’t a star and I didn’t love it. I ran my first 10k and half marathon while I was in high school and THAT I loved. I wasn’t the fastest runner out there, but I had the mental stamina to run for a very long time. I ran my first marathon in college, without a ton of training, in 4:14. I was just happy I finished until I received a plaque from the race noting that I placed in the top 3 in my age group. The classic achiever in me rejoiced and I set my sights on the Boston Marathon.
At the time, I had to run a 3:40 to qualify based on my age and gender. I joined a local running club to get faster and commit to epic long runs on the weekend. With this training, I ran a 3:35. Technically a qualifying time, but Boston fills up quick and it helps to qualify with more buffer time in order to be able to register earlier than “slower” qualifiers. I decided to take another year to get fast. At my peak, I ran a 1:27 half marathon and a 3:17 full, which allowed me to register on the first day and ended up qualifying me to run in Wave A of the race, which is my greatest athletic accomplishment to this day.
I’m incredibly proud of my running history - I placed first in a trail 1/2 marathon in Richmond, VA and even placed first overall (I beat all the boys!) in a friend’s 5k in Charlottesville, VA to honor her mother, which were both very special moments. But I also look back and see a girl who obsessively tracked her weekly mileage, split times, race performance, and how I looked in photos taken during and after races. I remember standing on the starting line of a race and hearing one friend say to another, “we’re here to have fun! No matter what” and I thought, “FUN?! This is not fun; this is a race; this is pain management for time”. I’m an intense person and a very intense runner.
I ended up burning out a bit after I ran the Boston Marathon (I ran it in 2013 so that story will be its own post). I ran another race in 2015 and did very well while having a little “fun” but I haven’t run competitively since. I love when running comes up in CrossFit programming as I tend to smoke the workout. For now, I’m happy running maybe once or twice a week. I look at the times but not obsessively. I might run a 10k again at some point? Never say never. I’m grateful for the mental toughness that I learned and honed through running and am committed to keeping my body healthy enough to run a few miles whenever I get the urge. I love to run, and I hope I always will.