10 Years of Running

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

I don't have an exact date of when "it all changed." I just know that it was the summer of 2011. I had bought my first pair of Vibrams, I was doing lots of walking, and wondering if these new-fangled shoes had anything to offer in terms of my decades-long feud with running. I had my doubts but I also had time on my hands.  When I say I was walking a lot, I mean 5-8 miles a day; I had been maximizing the use of my first-gen Fitbit at that point as well.  
A photo of a left sneaker from the instep with black vertical lines, a white heel and black bottom.It's on a wooden floor.

It started in part because I was teaching at UMASS Lowell and would have to trek up there twice a week from Peabody.  I had decided that maybe walking the lake in Wakefield might be a good workout before or even after class and somewhere when deciding to do that, I also decided that I might try running.  It started with running from one telephone pole to the next telephone pole--not rushing, just feeling it out.  Then, I would walk to the next telephone.  Steadily over a few weeks, I stretched the distance between telephone poles that I was running while trying to keep the walking between just two telephone poles.  Soon and I can't recall exactly when, but I made it entirely around the lake (about 3.1 miles or 5 kilometers).  I'm still awed by that accomplishment. I could barely run a mile and hated every minute of it. I fought like hell all my previous life to get to two miles and regularly failed.  But I finished 3 miles and felt like while a challenge, I wasn't exhausted and the like.  

So it began and it is a story I have shared with many folks and talked about it in different capacities here on this blog, with my first blog about running May 2012 but have written dozens of posts on the subject (my three top favorites are: Running with White Supremacy, The Two Demons I Run With, and 10 Ways Running Reminds Me of Learning). I even came close to doing a TEDx talk in Spring 2020 but, well, COVID-19 happened.  I still hope to deliver it someday.

It's strange to think of the small pieces that fell into place that lead me to become a runner--from having a class that was far away, to going to a chiropractor who introduced me to the Vibrams, to being in a relationship that was ending (nothing like emotionally processing while working out), to starting in the right season to slowly build up, to having found a community to encourage and support me.  Those are the easy ones I can call to mind, but there are many others.  It reminds me of how much of our lives are filled with and directed by the context that allows us to thrive and stumble.  When I look at my relationship with running, I know that it took a range of factors to get me from hating running to love it.  

And now that I'm here, it's fascinating to consider all the things that it does for me.  It certainly improves my health in numerous ways. Outside of my weight, my various indicators of health all come in significantly positive ranges--even though some of them were much less so in my late 20s.  I have found it to be an important place to process a range of emotions and stresses from work to family to my own inner struggles with the world.  I've often joked also that running is where I go to solve the world's problems; while not entirely true, it does give me a lot of space to think and process and given that much of my day-work, side-works, and dissertation work are intellectually demanding, it certainly gives me space for that.  

I don't know for sure but I think I have run close to 10,000 miles in these past 10 years. I'm floored by the idea of that because well, you can take any given year in the last decade and even the lowest year and it would still be substantially bigger than the cumulative running I did between 0 and 31 years old. That fact will continue to floor me for years to come, I think.

However, there have been some significant changes in my running over the years.  The first is that I don't use the Vibrams--I occasionally want to return to them and go back to really feeling every step that I take.  This desire has not resulted in me buying a new pair just yet.  I do a lot fewer races than in the first few years where I was doing 1-2 races each month.  Some of this is because I'm still working through my dissertation and that takes up more time.  There's also been the pandemic and in general, I haven't really been serious training--just enjoying running.  I also don't do as much long-distance running of 10+ miles though I've certainly been trying to do that more often with 1-2 runs a month at least that is 10+ miles.  I'm also writing a lot less about writing. About 75% of the blog posts that I wrote about running took place in the first 5 years and I may write one running blog post a year.  

These shifts make sense to me--I'm also 10 years older so the desire to race doesn't feel as strong nor can I train to the same degree because of time limitations.  Still, I've grown in running in other ways.  Over the last few years, I managed to work running into my commuting, managing to reduce my driving even more. I find I can still pretty regularly just put out a 8-10 mile run without much thought (though results of speed and feeling after may vary).  

The thing that strikes me about running and I've seen with myself and so many others over the years is the variety of runners, bodies, and approaches.  Maybe because I grew up having to play football or watching the runners on the track when I threw shotput but there often seemed a running type there or you needed more of something (endurance) and less of other things (weight?).  It seemed like a larger person like myself just wasn't likely to be able or made to run.  Yet when I go for runs in my neighborhood or anywhere really, there is no typical runner--just runners.  People deciding that today is the day they are going to move their bodies. We don different gear, move at different paces, and have different intentions but we're all there partaking in the practice.  

I'm also fascinated by how running has helped me understand geography better.  Whenever I traveled, within the first day or two, I'll go for a run and that will help me become familiar with and understand the layout of the space--also helping me to spot interesting places to visit.  But beyond that, even where I live, by covering lots of miles and looking for new routes, I become more familiar with the terrain and can anticipate where roads will lead or how long distances might be (or take) if I want to add on a little more distance to a run.  That idea of being able to intuit and find one's way with little use of a map is a good feeling.

I also love the meditative space that running provides for me--especially when I run in the morning.  It is a better thinking space than the shower (though the shower is pretty good) because I'm both fulling in my mind and my body while also subject to a changing landscape that can also stimulate ideas, curiousity, or be muted as needed.  It's these kinds of things--the idea that running is my go-to processing space for ideas, stress, emotions, and deep thinking--that add to my wonderment with running.  It fulfills and supports a lot of different needs in my life to a degree that I couldn't fathom.  

Clearly, this 10-year love of running is still strong and I look forward to what the next 10 years has to offer in this regard.  To the me 10 years from now--I hope the love has only grown deeper.  And if it hasn't, that's ok too, I just hope you have found something else to deliver as much meaning and possibility.

All right, I gotta go for run!  See y'all later.

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