Running has always been a part of me. In the same moments I learned to put one foot in front of the other, I learned to run. I instantly fell in love with speed, with the rush that comes from jolting forward with no real reason other than to simply…go.
As a kid, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. Something about being immersed in nature made me feel alive, radiant and energized. Being an only child meant I constantly had to find methods of entertaining myself; and this regularly meant galloping aimlessly barefoot in the grass, hurdling over small obstacles and racing from one end of the yard to the next. Most of my childhood consisted of long walks or runs with my mom near our house in Louisville, KY, darting through the woods that lined our neighborhood.
This simple kinetic motion came so naturally and with such great joy. The thing is, I knew I loved running before I understood it was possible not to.
Now that I’m older, I’m well aware that many people “hate” running. It’s “too boring” or “too mechanical” or “too hard.” The idea of tallying mileage is daunting to some. When I first came to this realization, it confused me—even irritated me—that so many people seemed to despise a physical pursuit I loved wholly. Then again, I’ve had my own moments of experiencing a “love-hate” relationship with the sport. I’m well-versed in what it means to “endure”, to push through pain and fatigue, sometimes suffering.
Throughout middle school and high school I ran competitively on track and cross country teams, determined to cut my times and take part in Kentucky’s annual State Championship. My goals kept me focused and motivated, completely focused on the purpose: Run. Fast.
Unfortunately, wrapping myself into these goals made it harder to feel the spirit of running. I loved to race, but I think that over time the aggression and rivalry became exhausting. The passion that once coursed through my veins was replaced with a sinister addiction to competition and withholding a title.
My sophomore year of college, I began training for a full Ironman triathlon. When I was younger, I did a wide variety of extra curricular activities—frankly, probably too many—and I wanted to implement variety back into my routine. After years of centering my life around running, I yearned to come back to some of the other activities I had once loved. Besides, my dad had completed one a few years prior, and if he could do it, so could I! It was time to whip out the goggles and bike helmet.
I started doubling my mileage, racking up about 70 miles a week running, partaking in two-a-day workouts at the gym and swimming pool before and after classes. Well, it wasn’t long until I found myself in the midst of a serious injury. Though at first seemingly mild, the stress fracture in my left shin evolved into a much greater restraint than anticipated. I ended up having to take nearly a year and a half off from running and, of course, I had to withdraw registration from the Ironman triathlon.
This hiatus was extremely difficult in significant ways: mentally, physically and spiritually. The sport that had always defined me was stripped from me, and I found myself frighteningly lost.
Thankfully, something quite positive came from this time away from running. I started swimming, cycling and doing gym workouts more frequently, falling equally in love with these varied recreations that allowed me to live a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.
(For this reason, I’m a firm believer in well-roundedness and never leaning entirely on one achievement or hobby to label yourself.) I was able to find solace and fulfillment in diverse activities, while patiently waiting for the day I might be able to run again.
When the day finally came, it was painful. My new approach was one of seriously paranoid caution. I stretched. A lot. I did warmups. I ran slow. Very slow. And I kept the distance short. But sure enough, over time, I was able to build up momentum. Throughout this journey, I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and prioritized the pure enjoyment of running, rather than the mile time or overall distance.
It’s been several years since this transition back into running, and the process was one of grit and patience. However, it was purpose-filled and helped make my final decision from “runner” to “triathlete” practically a no-brainer. Now, rather than running six days a week, I mix up my workouts and diversify my muscular focus day-to-day. My love of running no longer comes from a desire to “win”, but rather to find the same naive, innocent love of moving freely and wildly in the woods that I possessed as a child.
Today, I live in Chattanooga, TN, where there are countless, superb trails designed specifically for avid runners. I take my time on the technical, winding paths, sometimes stopping to look at my surroundings. (One can’t help but take a moment to appreciate the captivating beauty that is Chattanooga.) I think more clearly than ever about my movement, how I connect myself to earth; my breath, how the air fills my lungs, how the earth moves with me.
While I may not be as fast as I once was, my passion for athleticism is perhaps the strongest it’s ever been. I appreciate running more than ever, enchanted by its empowering energy and grateful to simply just…go.